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Orange County

County Drops 2% Bonus for Its Attorneys

Union for prosecutors and public defenders agrees to changes. Other workers remain eligible, but supervisors want payments scrapped.

August 16, 2003|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

One of the more noteworthy aspects of a tentative labor agreement between Orange County and the union representing prosecutors and public defenders is what's missing -- a 2% annual bonus that was paid to nearly every attorney.

County and union negotiators agreed to halt the bonuses, which were supposedly based on merit. The entire county bonus program came under sharp criticism after the Board of Supervisors learned that bonuses were paid to more than 95% of eligible county employees at a cost of more than $15 million a year.

The so-called Performance Incentive Program called on employees and managers to set goals for the year, with a follow-up evaluation that could, and almost always did, result in a bonus payment.

The new contract for prosecutors and public defenders includes a one-time 1% bonus, with no connection to an evaluation. Cutting the bonus program in half will save the county $400,000 in the upcoming budget year, and, ultimately, close to $800,000 in succeeding years.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 20, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Orange County bonuses -- An article Saturday in the California section of the Orange County Edition about contract negotiations with the union representing deputy prosecutors and public defenders misstated the value of performance-based bonuses that county employees received under past contracts. The bonuses were 1% of base salary, not 2%.

"They gave it a try, and it didn't work," said Supervisor Chuck Smith. "It's not a performance incentive program at all.... It's an automatic 2% raise. It cost the county a lot of money. We've got to do away with it."

County spokeswoman Diane Thomas declined to discuss the reasons for scrapping the program. Smith said the board instructed county labor negotiators to get rid of the bonuses. "We all agreed it was not working. So why keep it?" she said.

The new contract still requires the approval of the members of the Orange County Attorneys Assn. and the Board of Supervisors, which has scheduled a vote on it Tuesday. Christopher Kralick, the union's president, declined to discuss the proposed contract.

In a memo to members, union officials noted that "PIP has been suspended for the term of this contract." The union represents about 450 attorneys in the offices of the district attorney, public defender, county counsel and child support services.

The Orange County Grand Jury issued a report in May that faulted the county for agreeing to a number of costly benefit increases for the county's unionized workers, including the bonus plan. The grand jury also expressed concern about a lucrative retirement program for sheriff's deputies, and a policy that combined vacation and sick leave into one benefit that could be exchanged for cash when an employee resigned.

Thousands of employees represented by other labor unions remain eligible for the bonuses. Negotiations with the Orange County Employees Assn. and the Service Employees International Union are not expected to begin for several months.

Supervisor Chris Norby has been one of the biggest critics of the current bonus system. "I think the employees understand the economic reality the county and the state are facing," he said.

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