Last Wednesday following nearly two years of negotiations, Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairman Chuck Washington issued a press statement declaring the county had issued its “last, best and final” offer to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), imposing a final contract offer on 7,000 service workers in Riverside County.
The two year-negotiation process described by Washington, included no less than 39 meetings and multiple failed attempts to reach an agreement through compromise.
Washington defined the county’s decision to impose the memorandum as the responsible approach to stewardship of taxpayer dollars by protecting the county from a potential $35 million cost overrun. “I have to do what is in the best interest of our 2.5 million residents, and I take that responsibility seriously,” he stated adding, “Failing to rein in this excessive spending would have been reckless and irresponsible.”
Washington further explained that the county’s fiscal outlook is bleak, “It maintains a structural deficit and declining reserves, and the State of California continues to impose substantially increasing financial obligations on all counties.”
Regarding the unsuccessful SEIU union negotiations Washington declared, “SEIU’s demands were, unfortunately, impossible to fulfill. Members of SEIU have seen an average 49 percent increase in compensation over the past five years. On average, the compensation of SEIU members is 18 percent above market at top step when compared to the five surrounding counties—these kinds of increases are simply unsustainable.”
According to Washington, under the county’s memorandum, employees will receive 2.71 percent pay increases every year, which he claimed is much more manageable than the kinds of pay hikes the union demanded. He further asserted that although it is less than the SEIU sought, it is still an increase from employees’ current rate of pay.
SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schoonover did not react favorably to Riverside County’s forced memorandum. On Tuesday, December 11, he stated, “The Riverside County Board of Supervisors’ decision to impose its insulting “last, best and final” offer on the hardworking public servants of Riverside County is deeply disappointing, but not surprising. It’s par for the course for a board that has spent nearly two years attempting to grind down county workers and county services—no matter how much it hurts our community or how much it costs taxpayers.”
When parties involved in labor negotiations reach an impasse as was the case between Riverside County and SEIU, management can impose what is called a “last best and final” offer in lieu of a new collective bargaining agreement. Earlier this year, a lawsuit to block the county’s efforts in this regard resulted in an injunction by the Riverside County Superior Court. However, that injunction was voided by the California Fourth District Court of Appeal on November 2.
“Make no mistake,” Schoonover continued, “despite the confounding court decision that allowed this imposition to proceed, the systemic issues in Riverside County haven’t gone away. The county is still facing critical staffing shortages and safety issues in our hospitals and more than two dozen unfair labor practice charges that remain to be ruled on.”
According to Schoonover, the county’s action is going to hurt Riverside County. “In the short term, it’s going to affect everyone that receives county services and the people who provide them. In the long term, it has the potential to embroil the county even deeper into a long and costly legal fight.”
“This board of supervisors, two of whom won’t even be sitting in the chamber come January, is making a massive gamble at the expense of Riverside County taxpayers. They can impose all they want, but we will still have our day in court. When the court rules on the outstanding unfair labor practice charges, it could easily invalidate this entire imposition, forcing the County to go back and make every worker affected financially whole—with interest,” Schoonover concluded.
It is important to note the county’s unilateral imposition of provisions defined in the memorandum of understanding does not prevent the possibility of further negotiations with SEIU.
Although the county has imposed a memorandum with SEIU, Washington explained the county’s willingness to continue negotiations with another union who represents a smaller group of county employees, the Laborer’s International Union of North America (LIUNA). “I support returning to the negotiating table with LIUNA, with whom the County of Riverside met nine times and who expressed a willingness today to compromise,” he stressed.
Header Photo: SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schoonover (Left), Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairman Chuck Washington (Right)