San Diego County and its biggest union clash in contract talks

San Diego Union Tribune
Negotiations between San Diego County government and its largest labor union have hit a major snag because of a disagreement over who and how many people can be at the bargaining table, a disruption that could possibly impact thousands of employees.

The county and Service Employees International Union, Local 221, a labor organization that represents more than 10,000 of the government’s 17,000 employees, have filed unfair practice charges against each other before bargaining sessions could dive into talks on pay, benefits, pensions and other matters that make up the meat of a labor contract.

The county has reached three tentative agreements with other unions that represent deputy district attorneys, public defenders, and mechanics, carpenters and park maintenance workers. The new deals extend existing contracts, include pay increases and, in some cases, allow for parking reimbursements. The pacts also create a new pension tier for new employees that raises the retirement age and pays smaller benefits in an attempt to reduce county costs.

But talks with the SEIU have not been as fruitful.

The county maintains that SEIU improperly brought representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Policy Initiatives, the Community Advocacy Network and others group to join the union at the bargaining table and participate in negotiations. On Feb. 21 the county filed an unfair practice charge against the union with the California Public Employment Relations Board.

“The County objected to the presence of the observers on the grounds that there was no agreement to allow members of the public to observe negotiations,” the county’s claim says.

Local 221, a union that represents nurses, social workers, appraisers, librarians, clerical staff and other employees, says that representatives from these community groups provide expertise and insight into the nature and value of the services the union’s members provide and are allowed to sit at the bargaining table.

“We believe, morally and legally, we’re right,” said David Garcias, Local 221’s president.

Despite the charges, negotiations can continue, and the county and union are scheduled to resume talks on Thursday.

Discussions aren’t going well because the bargaining teams haven’t been able to dive into the terms of the contract, Garcias said.

In November 2015, the Center for Policy Initiatives published a study that conducted that eligible county residents are under-enrolled in government benefits like CalFresh (food stamps), CalWORKS and Medi-Cal, causing them to miss $714 million in benefits each year, and $905 million in economic activity. The research organization recommended that the county do more to enroll eligible people into benefit programs, and to hire additional staff. Local 221 represents many of the workers who help people enroll in public assistance programs.

CPI said it can provide perspective on how the county’s policies impact its employees and residents.

“There are county workers who leave work and then go sit on the other side of the counter,” Kyra Greene, CPI’s deputy director.

The county said that CPI’s methodology in its report was flawed, and that it used misleading statistics, and that more eligible are enrolled in benefits than mentioned in the study.

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