A union representing most of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board employees has rejected the board's final wage offer and employees may walk off their jobs if management refuses to reopen talks, a union spokesman said.
Charles Evans, president of the Employees' Action Committee that represents about 30 of the 40 board employees, said union members turned down the offer by a 23-5 vote last week. He said employees have started contributing to a United Auto Workers national "fight-back fund" that qualifies them for $100-a-week strike pay in the event of a walkout.
"The issue that would send us out into the streets is when there's no hope for a reasonable settlement," Evans said. "As we speak today, I have not recommended a strike to my membership, but I can tell you they're thinking about it. Our members have said, 'No, no, no,' to the board's proposal."
Evans said he will meet with board Administrator Howell Tumlin today to discuss a possible reopening of negotiations. Tumlin confirmed that he has agreed to talk, but added that the board's final offer will stand.
"The board has given its best offer," Tumlin said. "We've laid it all out on the table. This is all we have to give in terms of concessions and other issues. . . . There's no chance for a middle ground."
The board has not disclosed its offer.
The union is seeking pay raises and other benefits under its existing three-year contract. In the often-bitter climate of negotiations, which have lasted since April, talks have stalled over two issues: pay raises and the board's policy of using outsiders for some of its hearing examiner work.
Tumlin said the board has refused to grant the more than $100,000 in retroactive pay raises demanded by the union. He said the board also is rejecting the union's request for two additional hearing examiners.
Evans said the board is being unreasonable. He accused Tumlin of trying to break the union by using outsiders for hearing examiner work that would normally be performed by full-time employees. And Evans said any pay raise agreement would be meaningless to the union unless it is retroactive.
"If we negotiate a pay raise that's effective the date of the agreement, we will have made no progress," Evans said. "That's why there was such a resounding defeat of the proposal. Any settlement has to be retroactive because we're talking about 28 or 30 months with little or no pay increase."
Evans said employees also object to a board proposal for a graduated pay raise scale. But he said they remain hopeful of a settlement.
'Morale Is Good'
"I get the sense that morale is very good," Evans said, "not because of the working conditions, but because of the decision we have made (to reject the board offer). This is a group of people who are prepared to take whatever steps are necessary."
Evans said the union hopes to resolve the pay raise issue and other disputes before its contract expires next year. But negotiations have become increasingly hostile during the past few months. The union, which represents clerical workers, secretaries, investigators, administrative analysts, petitioners and hearing examiners, circulated a flyer recently accusing the board of misusing public funds and harassing employees.
Union members also challenged Tumlin's management skills and described the independently elected board commissioners as "five blind mice." Board members denied the allegations of impropriety and said the flyer was the result of union frustration over the stalled contract talks.