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Raises for County Workers : Labor Pacts Will Cost $8.5 Million in 1st Year

October 27, 1987|DAVE LESHER | Times Staff Writer

Recent labor agreements between Orange County and eight unions representing 12,000 employees will cost county government about $8.5 million in the current fiscal year, County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish said Monday.

The settlements reached so far include even more substantial raises for the next fiscal year, beginning in July, 1989. But Parrish said the total cost of the contracts was not available.

3% or 4% Raises

The $8.5 million for this year represents about 0.5% of the county's annual $1.7 billion budget.

For this fiscal year, all the unions got either 3% or 4% increases. The sheriff's deputies, marshals and attorneys got a total 15% over their two-year contract, and the remaining unions received a little more than 10% over that period.

The county's source of money for the contracts has been a focus of the difficult negotiations because the government said as late as July that it was broke and could not afford raises.

As the county settled with the last of its eight unions a week ago, labor leaders were sharply questioning the credibility of the government and predicting that the arduous months of bitter talks could have a lasting effect on employee morale.

"It's like the boy who cried wolf," said Fred Lowe, director of Service Employees International Union. "It's just made a lot of people very frustrated."

Parrish said Monday that the settlements were achieved with money that became available after seven of the union contracts expired in early July. He said the county's claims of poverty were accurate and blamed the unpredictability of government revenues for making the county's credibility appear questionable.

"I agree with that assessment (that the government looked to be unreliable)," Parrish said. "There is a misunderstanding of when the money becomes available. I think we look a lot worse than we are."

Parrish mentioned four sources of funds from the current fiscal year's budget that might be tapped to pay the $8.5-million labor bill. He said, however, that decisions about how much money will come from each fund have not been made.

Some of the money will come from a $6.1-million state grant that was approved by the Legislature in August, Parrish said. The grant came in about $300,000 over what the county had anticipated. But other county services have claimed parts of that grant.

Parrish said there is also money left over from a landfill management fund that supervisors dipped into earlier this year. Until about $15 million was taken from the landfill fund--which will cause dumping fees to increase earlier than expected--county officials said they were planning to lay off more than 100 employees.

Unanticipated Surplus

Some of the money is from an unanticipated surplus that was discovered when the final calculations were made on the budget for the 1986-87 fiscal year, which ended June 30, Parrish said. And some of it is likely to come from the county's contingency account, a fund that is saved for unanticipated costs such as natural disasters, fires, equipment costs or lawsuits.

However, county officials have described the contingency fund as "dangerously low."

After the budget was adopted in August, the contingency account contained $17,527,807. Auditor-controller Steve Lewis had recommended that the county have at least $20 million in its contingency account. Parrish has told the supervisors that $15 million is "rock bottom."

The county has recently signed new contracts with two of its employee unions: the sheriff's and marshal's deputies. It has reached tentative agreements with the six others, and all but one union has had its members ratify the accords.

The Orange County Employees Assn., with 6,500 members, is tentatively scheduled to hold a membership meeting to vote on its agreement later this week.

All six of the tentative agreements must receive final approval from the Board of Supervisors.

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