This from Orange County Supervisor Patricia Bates, whose district includes San Juan Capistrano:
2012 Labor Negotiations
A major focus of your Board of Supervisors in 2012 will be labor negotiations. Several employee contracts are up for renegotiation, and it will be the responsibility of this Board to ensure taxpayers’ interests are successfully represented at the bargaining table.
We need to take the opportunity of the 2012 negotiations to explore options for slowing the rapidly rising cost of government. Employees must be compensated fairly; however, the compensation offered to employees must live within means of what the County treasury can afford both in the short-term and long-term.
In the closing months of 2011, the Board has taken actions that signal our intentions for 2012 labor relations and have initiated reforms that will prevent mistakes made in past negotiations.
In my view, a positive step forward for taxpayers was the Board’s recent action to reject proposed changes in the Orange County Managers Association (OCMA) contract. If approved as presented to the Board, the OCMA contract, which contained a “Pay for Performance” award program, would have significantly raised the salary range for managers and long-term pension costs.
The accelerated increase in base salaries, which is a byproduct of the Pay for Performance program, is what is threatening the fiscal solvency of our pension plans and the overall cost of government. That is why my colleagues and I rejected the OCMA contract proposal.
Similarly, this week we rejected a proposal that would have increased salary ranges for Law Enforcement Managers. I believe our employees deserve to be paid appropriately; however, we must correct the past that set salary and pension benefits at rates we cannot afford in the long-term.
To correct the record and avoid confusion, I should point out that media reports asserted the Board privately approved retroactive raises for members of OCMA prior to publicly voting down the contract I mentioned above. Such an assertion is inaccurate. The fact is these “raises,” or more accurately performance awards, were made in compliance with a previously negotiated contract.
The County began negotiations with OCMA in November 2010, as their employment contract was due to expire January 14, 2011; and as part of the negotiations, the County included in the discussions significant changes to the Pay for Performance award program contained in this existing contract. OCMA agreed to defer the 2010 performance awards that were due to be paid to eligible managers on or around January 5, 2011 until a new contract was hammered-out.
As a result of not reaching agreement on the new contract, it was determined the County was legally bound to fund and award performance increases, as outlined in the previous existing contract. Paying the previously agreed to awards saves the County the costs associated with litigation and avoids the large salary range increases included in the new proposed contract.
The Board has directed staff to continue to work with OCMA to reach an agreement that is fair to the County’s managers and awards exceptional performance yet does not significantly increase pay ranges and associated pension benefits.
Going forward, the prospects for taxpayers in the 2012 negotiations are strong. The Board continues to move toward implementing a significant reform: hiring a third party private firm to negotiate our labor contracts.
The negotiators supplied by a private firm will provide the County with the needed skill and expertise. A private, independent firm will also determine short-term and long-term impacts of every major contract component discussed at the bargaining table.
In the past, the County relied on in-house staff to conduct our negotiations. However, we believe a third party will provide for a stronger advocate at the bargaining table.
An additional positive for taxpayers is our recent Performance Audit, which identified over $150 million in savings can be achieved in contract negotiations. As such, the Board has agreed to meet and discuss this list of savings and develop a strategy for making them a reality.
Balancing savings for the taxpayer with salaries that award performance and also retains a superior workforce will continue to be a priority for me throughout my term. Nowhere is the opportunity for savings greater than in our labor contracts.
I value the work our public employees do and the services they provide; and I know Orange County is fortunate to have very competent and diligent public servants. However, the current path is unsustainable. Reversing the trend is the challenge all local officials must take on and one this Orange County Board of Supervisors is ready to meet.