County employees take their case to the public

By Deb Murphy

Members of an Inyo County employees union went back to the bargaining table Thursday in an attempt to break an apparent impasse in its year-long contract negotiations.

Details of the negotiations have been publicized through a series of press releases, from both the union, The Inyo County Employees Association, Local 315 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the County. But Monday evening, the ICEA held a public meeting with personal stories from union members and a financial analysis by AFSCME’s labor economist.

Inyo County Supervisors were invited to the town hall meeting, but none attended. The meeting room at Jill Kinmont Boothe School was filled with more than 60 residents, Inyo employees and representatives from the union.

In March of last year, the ICEA negotiators’ asked for a 4-percent cost of living adjustment and retention of the County’s policy to allow employees to “sell back” a week’s worth of unused sick leave. The County started with a 0.5-percent increase for the next two years with a 1-percent COLA in the third year of the contract and no sick leave sell back.

The parties hit a wall with the union ending up at a 2-percent increase per year for three years and a modification of the sick leave policy that would keep it intact once a 350 sick-leave hours had accrued. The County’s stance: a 1-percent COLA for two years with a 2-percent increase in the third year. The County’s sell-back policy offer, 600 sick-leave hours, would take nearly five years before an employee could use the sell-back bonus, according to chief negotiator Chris Wickham. A 1-percent raise for the lower-paid union members would amount to a 12-cent an hour pay hike, Wickham said.

The 250 to 260 employees in the ICEA include service providers in the Department of Health and Human Services as well as road maintenance, mosquito abatement, environmental health, restaurant inspectors and library, airport, parks, animal control, waste management, wetlands management, dispatch and election workers. According to Wickham, the last raises were given in July 2015.

Labor economist Gary Storrs put to rest any argument the County couldn’t afford the ICEA’s offer. “The (financial) trends are positive,” he said at the end of his presentation. “The revenues are up, expenses are down. This is inconsistent with an argument the County can’t increase pay. The evidence indicates this county has a lot of fiscal flexibility.”

Based on audited financial statements from fiscal years 2013-2015, Storrs said the County’s unassigned, or contingency, funds were 40-percent of annual expenditures at the end of fiscal year 2015, far above the recommended 17-percent level.

Recruitment and retention were big issues for employees who made statements at the meeting. An H&HS employee talked about doing three jobs because of unfilled positions. “We’re service workers,” she said, “at the bottom. We’re not asking for the moon. We’re trying to do this for the future, for the entry-level jobs.”

An employee at the County’s Parker House for  crisis placements was demoted to keep costs down. “We’re just asking to be paid what we’re worth,” she said.

Many of the speakers referred to the tourist-based economy and higher cost of living in the County, a cost that exceeds the 2-percent increase the union has asked for.

A member of the Behavioral Health Department reminded the audience she “served the under-served. “This is not all about the money. It’s about keeping services for the under-served up and running.”

The final speaker suggested audience members check out the County’s website (http://www.inyocounty.us/EmployeeBenefits.html) for a run-down of salary ranges.

 

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Philip Anaya
Philip Anaya
5 years ago

@Bob M I wrote the words “dedicated Inyo County workers” to indicate that these folks are our neighbors, friends and family and they are hard working and there is progress in their wakes each and every day. Their efforts, whatever they do, are being directed by administrative oversight and if… Read more »

Laura B
Laura B
5 years ago

As the employee that was quoted I would like to clarify, I AM dedicated to my career with the County and my future. I am also dedicated to being able to pay my bills today and provide for my family. I am grateful every day I have a job to… Read more »

Earl Duran
Earl Duran
5 years ago

Social Security has not had a COLA for a long time, suck it up.

Truth
Truth
5 years ago
Reply to  Earl Duran

Not true, in the last 20 years, Social Security has had a COLA every year except 2009, 2010, and 2015.

BobK
BobK
5 years ago

Bob: I’m dedicated to my retirement. What’s the problem?

Bob Miller
Bob Miller
5 years ago

Jesus Christ…

dedicated county employees.. dedicated to their retirement. I have zero sympathy.

T-Bone
T-Bone
5 years ago
Reply to  Bob Miller

If I can’t have it, neither should you!

Jane
Jane
5 years ago

Many ICEA employees have felt strongly in recent years that Inyo County should be honoring MLK Day, and you are correct that Dr. King was in Memphis, honoring a picket line of striking AFSCME garbage workers, when he was assassinated. At the beginning of last year’s bargaining in the spring… Read more »

Inyo Citizen
Inyo Citizen
5 years ago
Reply to  Jane

The Union argues that the County doesn’t care about its employees with the following example: An employee quit a private sector job that had no benefits to take a job with the County that has good benefits AND the same level of pay… This is comical. The Union thinks the… Read more »

Truth
Truth
5 years ago
Reply to  Inyo Citizen

Perhaps you are missing the point that if you are receiving the same level of pay and qualifying for Medi-Cal, you are actually coming out ahead if you take the job where you aren’t paying for health insurance premiums or a percentage of your health care costs?

Allen Berrey
Allen Berrey
5 years ago

The County employee unions treated Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy like a bargaining chip – abandoning his holiday in exchange for their own personal time off. In my opinion, that is reprehensible; especially so when we recall that Dr. King was in Memphis in support of a sanitation… Read more »

Pedro
Pedro
5 years ago
Reply to  Allen Berrey

Allen, Does your office smell of red herring? If Inyo County had not waited 30 years to declare MLK Jr. Day a holiday, and hadn’t drug out this contract negotiation, there would be no need to bargain. Maybe the union forgets King was in Memphis to support an AFSCME strike.… Read more »

Tinner
Tinner
5 years ago

PAY THEM the 4% ALREADY!!!

Truth
Truth
5 years ago
Reply to  Tinner

Are you asking them to pay 4% each year of the contract?

Philip Anaya
Philip Anaya
5 years ago

A 2% cost of living for three years and the sick leave buy back after 350 hours is reasonable and acceptable to myself and most probably to other tax payers . What is not reasonable is the length of time that has passed to reach a settlement with our dedicated… Read more »