Members of Kern County’s largest union, the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, voted Wednesday to approve a “first step” contract with the County of Kern.
Kern County supervisors will vote on whether to ratify the two-year deal Tuesday.
The deal eschews traditional raises in favor of two one-time $500 bonuses, eight days off around the holidays for most non-critical employees and an agreement to give employees a say in issues like caseload and health and safety policies.
In exchange, the union agreed to remove vacation, holiday and sick time hours from the formula used to calculate when workers earn overtime.
Employees will be able to take Veteran’s Day as a new holiday.
But the rate workers earn when they work on a holiday will be reduced from 2.5 times their normal salary to only double time.
“I wouldn’t call it a good contract but I would call it a step in the right direction,” said Sonia Chagollan, a human services supervisor for the Department of Human Services.
Chagollan served on SEIU’s bargaining team and said the process was being in the middle of the presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Employees have gone without a cost of living increase since 2008 and they are tired of being put off by the county, she said.
The union understood that the county has an operational deficit.
But, she said, the constant demand to do more with less is wearing on employees.
“I think its time for the Board of Supervisors to see what their employees are really going through,” Chagollan said.
The deal was a hard one for union members to accept, though 75 percent of the membership ultimately voted for the contract, she said.
“It was rough because the members, they would have been happy just to have a raise,” Chagollan said.
Members were not happy with the lost time exclusion from overtime, she said, and bargaining team members were stuck in between the two sides.
Kern County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop didn’t hesitate to agree that employees haven’t seen a cost of living increase in nearly a decade and, while performance raises are still offered, many employees have maximized that benefit.
County employees deserve more, he said.
“They work hard jobs on the ground level with some of our most vulnerable people,” Alsop said. “When this contract is up it is my hope to be in a position to make a significant contribution in the way of a raise or cost of living increase.”
But right now offering large, on-going benefits to employees – when the county has a nearly $20 million deficit – would be irresponsible.
And he said he was grateful that the membership of SEIU was willing to partner with the county and ink a deal.
“I’m trying to build a pathway out of this fiscal crisis and the way we do that is together.
I need our employees,” he said.
In all, the county gave around $700,000 in one-time concessions in order to lock in the deal, Alsop said.
Union members agreed to give up an estimated $1.5 million in ongoing annual costs, he said.
“We’re trying to find savings but at the same time we’re trying to find ways to reward them,” Alsop said. “It’s a bridge to, hopefully, a better position, a better time, a better economy. It’s saying, ‘Thank you. We’re sorry we can’t do more.”