MOORLACH UPDATE — Merry Christmas — December 24, 2015

The joys of negotiating with public employee bargaining units in closed session is today’s topic. The OC Register and the Voice of OC provide the details of yesterday’s special meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to approve the Orange County Employees Association’s (OCEA) new contract in their pieces below.

First, transparency was minimal. No wonder the OC Register‘s editorial board requested that the Board take a breather in yesterday’s edition (see http://www.ocregister.com/articles/county-697140-board-meeting.html).

Second, the joys of losing transparency were discussed earlier this fall (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Transparency Turkey — September 18, 2015 september 18, 2015 john moorlach).

Third, OCEA enjoyed a new leader in this round of negotiations (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Boxing With Nick Berardino — July 28, 2015 july 28, 2015 john moorlach).

Fourth, my former Policy Advisor, Kathy Moran, now being able to speak for herself, requested records concerning the negotiations. She received them late in the afternoon on Tuesday, the day before the Board meeting. The data was rather extensive, so there was not much time for her, as a member of the public, to digest the materials. Consequently, the debate was not over the contract, but on the ability to allow the public to have more time to review the details. The public lost. And, the taxpayers are the third party in the negotiations.

Fifth, what would the public have learned if the Civic Openness in Negotiations (COIN) ordinance was not put on hold and in effect? Or if a modified version of some form of transparency under the Meyers Millias Brown Act would have been followed?

You would find that OCEA requested wage increases of 23.5% and market adjustments of another 3% near the inception of the negotiations. The public sector is not receiving much in the way of pay increases and it does not have defined benefit pension plans. Now you can see why a little sunshine would be helpful. You can also see what the Board had to negotiate down to.

Sixth, you would find that the Board was given a rather shallow explanation of what the average annual wage increases would be over the period 2007-08 to 2017-18. The back-of-the-napkin calculation provides that the average annual pay increase for OCEA members is 2.4%. This is extremely generous, compared to the private sector! But, I suspect that the true number is probably higher. If the Board would have asked the Orange County Employees Retirement System’s actuary to provide its hard data, it would be very revealing. Even during economic tough times, employees still get promotions, which includes pay increases. All the more so when managers and supervisors are financially incentivized to retire at age 55.

And seventh, the Board concluded the negotiations before an election year.

It looks like 12,038 County employees will have something to be thankful for this Christmas. But, a 9.5% increase to a nearly $800 million annual salary cost will have an impact. Let’s hope the new year brings a growing and thriving economy and that real estate values continue to rise.

With best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

County workers get pay raises

Supervisors unanimously OK three-year contract with OCEA.

By JESSICA KWONG / STAFF WRITER

Employees with Orange County’s largest union are heading into the holidays assured of their biggest salary raise since the recession, under a three-year contract the Board of Supervisors approved Wednesday morning.

Requiring six months of negotiation, the contract expiring in June 2018 grants the Orange County Employees Association’s more than 10,000 members a 4.5 percent raise the first year and an additional 2.5 percent the following two years. Employees, who last saw a raise in March 2014, will also receive $500 in January, in December 2016 and in December 2017.

The vote was unanimous – but only after debate over a public records request submitted Monday morning and fulfilled the night before the board’s special meeting.

Board Chairman Todd Spitzer wondered if the public and records requester Kathy Moran, a former county employee who worked for then-Supervisor John Moorlach, had sufficient time to review the 32 proposals and counter-proposals produced between the county and union.

“My only point was the public knows nothing. This is their time to know about the process” of the contract terms, said Spitzer, asking staff if it was possible to delay the vote. In that event, Supervisor Michelle Steel suggested looking into making the contract retroactive two weeks.

But that didn’t sit well with Spitzer’s board colleagues, or the union’s general manager, Jennifer Muir.

During public comment, Muir stressed that workers have been waiting six months since the prior contract expired and shouldn’t have to be left “hanging in the balance” due to one records request made in “the ninth hour.”

“Our members through the recession have sacrificed, they have done more with less and now is the time we can move forward as a county,” Muir said. “This moment is a moment that will send a very strong message to our membership.”

Employees’ 1.25 percent salary boost in March 2014 was their first increase since the 2007-09 contract, which entailed 2.5 to 5 percent raises but also higher health care and retirement costs.

Apart from raises, the newly approved contract gives employees free access to county parks with their work badges and calls for the establishment of joint county and union working groups to study a half dozen elements including efficiency and performance programs and a plan to separate annual leave into sick and vacation time.

The records request by Moran opened access to 44 megabytes worth of data that was not public because the board this year suspended the Civic Openness in Negotiation, or COIN ordinance, after a judge ruled the county should have consulted the employees association before approving it. That law requires disclosure of offers and counter-offers between county negotiators and unions and more detailed analysis of the financial impacts of proposed labor agreements.

The county is appealing the COIN ruling, county spokeswoman Jean Pasco said.

Along with the proposals and counter-proposals, Moran on Tuesday night was informed the contract has no expected impact on long-term unfunded pension liability, Pasco said.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson said there “shouldn’t be any secrets” in the negotiating process but he wouldn’t have changed anything in the resulting contract, “which I think is the fair deal now.” The tentative agreement was signed by both parties on Dec. 16 and ratified by the union Tuesday night.

“I think from a morale standpoint, we have an obligation to finish what we started,” Nelson said. “I don’t think it’s fair to drag (employees) into the New Year when they’ve already voted.”

Moran, who was an executive analyst for Moorlach when he introduced COIN, responded: “I do not have a problem with the numbers, I do not have a problem with your agreement,” after which Spitzer joined his board colleagues voting for the contract.

Over the three fiscal years, the contract will cost the county $193 million, but 78 percent of that amount will be offset by federal, state and grant revenues for administering services on other agencies’ behalf, according to the county’s staff report.

The remaining $42 million that will come out of the county’s funds “is not an issue,” said county CEO Michelle Aguirre. The total county budget for the current fiscal year is $5.8 billion.

“The impact on the county is within the county’s means,” Aguirre said.

Contact the writer: jkwong or on Twitter: @JessicaGKwong

OC Supervisors Approve New Labor Deal With County Workers

By Nick Gerda

Nearly 11,000 Orange County workers are now slated see their first significant raises since the Great Recession, after county supervisors unanimously ratified a new labor deal Wednesday.

The deal, which covers two-thirds of the county workforce, calls for an immediate 4.5-percent salary increase, followed by 2.5 percent raises in July 2016 and 2017.

The workers, who are represented by the Orange County Employees Association, would also receive three $500 payments between January 2016 and December 2017.

“I’m very supportive of this deal,” said supervisors’ Republican Chairman Todd Spitzer.

Addressing employees, he added: “We value your work, we know how hard you work. We want you to be proud of working in this county.”

Even supervisors who have been very critical of public employee costs in the past – such as Republicans Shawn Nelson and Michelle Steel – were strongly in support of the deal, calling it a fair increase after major sacrifices by employees in the wake of the Great Recession.

“This is what I think is the appropriate, fair deal for now,” said Nelson, who motioned for the deal’s approval Wednesday.

“We have the lowest pension formula in the state of California,” he added, noting the 1.62-percent-at-55 formula agreed to years ago by the general workers.

“We’ve done the heavy lifting” to start fixing the county’s unfunded employee liabilities, he added.

The new deal covers hundreds of different county job classifications, like mental health nurses, district attorney investigative assistants, and veterans claims officers.

Its approval came on a unanimous 5-0 vote, with Supervisor Andrew Do participating by phone from Las Vegas.

OCEA General Manager Jennifer Muir, who led the union’s negotiating team in the six months of bargaining, said the deal would spark a much more collaborative environment at the county.

“We have a huge opportunity today, where we can move forward” on opportunities “to cut cost, improve efficiencies” and save money on healthcare while helping employees be more healthy, she said.

The contract sets up working groups for employees to collaborate with management on ways to make the county run more efficiently and reduce taxpayer costs – such as by reforming the county’s annual leave rules.

There was a possibility of the vote being delayed two weeks, until the new year. Spitzer argued for the delay, saying that while he supports the deal points, the public should have more time to digest the deal. The deal pointswere released by the county about a week before Wednesday’s vote.

“In my opinion, if this is a good deal, then it will be a good deal in two weeks,” Spitzer said.

But his colleagues saw it differently.

“We already almost agreed with this raise,” said Steel. “I don’t think it’s really fair for [employees] that they have to wait another two weeks to get a raise.”

There was one public commenter who opposed voting on the deal Wednesday.

Kathy Moran, a former aide to then-Supervisor John Moorlach, was critical of the time frame for the public to digest the deal points.

She said she didn’t have a problem with the salary increases, but doubted the employee efficiency discussions will be yield any results and said that the public hasn’t had enough time to review the deal.

“I think it was done very poorly, in which you gave very little notice to us,” said Moran.

But to supervisors like Nelson, a week was plenty of time to review a straightforward deal.

“Is there anybody in the room that doesn’t understand what the raise is? 4-and-a-half [percent raise]. 2-and-a-half [percent], 2 and a half [percent]…This isn’t a real tricky formula,” he said.

“Today’s the time to vote on this deal,” he added. “The deal points [are] pretty tight. There’s not a lot of moving parts.”

OCEA members went nearly five years – beginning in July 2009 – without any across-the-board raises. In March 2014, they received a raise of 1.25 percent, and then a one-time 1.25-percent bonus the following month.

The agreement before that, from July 2007 through June 2009, increased salaries between 2.5 percent and 5 percent.

The new contract runs for about two and a half years, through late June 2018.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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