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County, union reach labor agreement - Employees will pay more

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

Plumas County and its largest employee union have reached a tentative labor agreement.

The county’s Board of Supervisors was expected to approve the deal at its Tuesday, Dec. 13, meeting. The union voted to ratify the agreement Wednesday, Dec. 7.

Board Chairwoman Lori Simpson said she was almost certain the board would vote to approve the Memorandum of Understanding with the union.

“We are thrilled,” Simpson said. “I think the board will pass it, definitely. It’s what we have wanted.”

The agreement was hashed out with the help of a state-appointed mediator and includes several concessions by the employees.

County workers will begin paying part of their own retirement contributions. They will pay more for their health insurance. And they could continue taking furloughs or work four nine-hour days per week.

Budget Officer Jack Ingstad said the county could save more than $700,000 if all the employee concessions are enacted.

“We don’t intend to implement all of those,” Ingstad said. “However, the agreement gives us the flexibility to do that if we need to.”

Ingstad said the county wouldn’t implement a four-day work week unless the budget problem gets worse.

He said the four furlough days already mandated by the county, combined with employee retirement and insurance contributions, might be enough to balance the budget.

Ingstad said the county would have a better fiscal snapshot when the property tax revenue is recorded in early January.

It was declining tax revenue that accounted for most of the county’s $1.2 million budget shortfall.

Although the employees aren’t happy about pay cuts, union negotiator Barbara Palmerton said they generally understand the financial problem the county is facing.

“I know the board doesn’t want to take away stuff. I understand that,” Palmerton said. “There are a few employees who are extremely unhappy. But there are a lot of employees who understand that (the cuts) had to happen, and it’s nobody’s fault here.

“It has been a very difficult process. I’m just glad it’s over.”

After months of failed negotiations, the county declared an impasse Oct. 18.

Representatives from the Operating Engineers Local 3 (OE3) and the county met with a state-appointed mediator Nov. 17.

After a full day of talks, the two sides agreed to the following:

—Employees would contribute 3 percent of their wages to their retirement fund. The county will contribute 4 percent. The county had been making the full 7 percent contribution.

—The county can make employees take 13 furlough days during a fiscal year, or implement a four-day, nine-hour workweek, provided the employee has three consecutive days off.

—Employees will pay any increases in health insurance premiums. In the past, the county paid half of the increase. Beginning Jan. 11, 2012, a single employee will pay an additional $67 per month. An employee insuring an additional family member will pay $135 more. A family plan will cost an extra $182.

Simpson said watching county employees take cuts has been hard.

“Being a former county employee and labor negotiator, I know how they feel,” Simpson said. “This has not been easy at all. I know I’m probably not very popular.

“We had to make some very tough decisions. Hopefully things are going to start getting better. I’m just relieved it’s over.”

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