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O.C. Offers a 4.75% Raise to Its Union Workers

The cost, for 13,300 employees, would be nearly $40 million. Members vote this week.

July 25, 2006|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Orange County has offered its 13,300 rank-and-file employees a raise of 4.75% for the current year, at a total estimated cost of nearly $40 million.

The raise slightly outpaces anticipated inflation for the coming year. County officials said they were trying to bring salaries in line with those offered by other local governments, and employee union representatives said the raises were deserved because the union had helped the county save money in the last year.

Negotiators for the county and the Orange County Employees Assn. reached agreement Thursday after nearly a year of talks. Union members began voting to ratify the raise Monday and will continue through Saturday. Nick Berardino, the general manager of the union, said member reaction was "very positive."

The union, the county's largest, represents a wide range of workers, from office support staff to nurses.

The raises would come in this, the final year of a three-year contract. Under its terms, raises were suspended for the first two years in exchange for a sweetened retirement deal that allows some employees to retire at 55 with their full salary. But the contract also contains a clause that permits negotiations on wage increases in the third year.

Dianna Garcia, the county's human resources director, said the 4.75% offer was arrived at by "really taking a look at a lot of the markets and what had been happening over the last two years when our employees were not getting any raises." It was also based in part on an inflation assumption of 4.45%.

The Board of Supervisors must approve the deal, which would probably be a formality because board members authorized negotiators to make the offer.

At least one board member was critical of the proposed deal.

"I am a little bit concerned that when we were discussing the ... pension hike, there was a tacit agreement at that time that there would be no raises for three years, and that would help pay for the pension boost," Supervisor Chris Norby said. "I'm certainly not a part of any consensus to vote for this at this time."

Board Chairman Bill Campbell, who was traveling in Washington, D.C., did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Fiscal conservatives already have begun attacking the deal. Berardino's e-mail to members announcing the agreement was posted on the conservative OCBlog.net on Sunday, with a comment that the union "certainly seems to have a solid hand on the wallets of county taxpayers."

Berardino said the union had saved the county millions of dollars in the last year by containing healthcare costs for members and lobbying the pension system to alter its calculations in a way that reduced the county's costs. He also cited the union's campaign against Measure D, which would have required as much as $30 million from a special sales tax to be spent on firefighters.

"We didn't just sit back and say 'Give us a raise,' " he said. "We worked very, very hard to partner with the county and save millions for taxpayers."

If approved, the raise will take effect retroactively to the July 1 start of the current fiscal year.

As part of the agreement, the county would also increase by a half-percent the amount it takes from each employee's salary to fund the pension system.

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