The Board of Supervisors today approved a new contract with the union representing Orange County sheriff's deputies and District Attorney investigators that has them pick up all of the cost of pension benefits starting next year, but also includes pay raises of about 3 percent.
Orange County Board Chairman Shawn Nelson and Supervisor John Moorlach cast the dissenting votes.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens called the deal "fair," and it was also supported by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
"It's been a long time coming with a lot of negotiations, but it arrives at a good balance," Rackauckas said in urging the board to support the agreement.
Rackauckas, however, warned county officials about asking too much of employees, making it harder to recruit.
In San Jose, city officials a decade ago boasted of having the safest large city in the country. But when police officers were required to cover the full cost of their retirement benefits, the tide turned, Rackauckas said.
"It was devastating to their police department since that's gone into effect," Rackauckas said. "They're struggling to put that police department back together again, but they're hemorrhaging police officers ... They've had literally hundreds of transfers ... and their crime rate has gone up. They're now higher than the national average, higher than the state average, and they can no longer brag they're the safest city. In fact, far from it."
Response times for crimes in that Northern California city has gone from eight minutes to 20 minutes, Rackauckas said. Worse, he said, the city is "spending large amounts of money on training" recruits, only to lose them in a short time to other departments that can offer better pay and benefits.
"They have a very real concern they're training people for other departments," Rackauckas said.
In Orange County, sheriff's deputies will pay 14 to 20 percent of their salary toward pension benefits, which is "substantially higher" than what other county employees pay, Dominguez said.
The union leader said the deal has been "mischaracterized as being riddled with generous" giveaways to law enforcement employees. Dominguez said other law enforcement agencies in the area offer better pay and benefits, and the deputies and D.A. investigators are now the only county employees paying for medical benefits for retirees.
Supervisor Janet Nguyen said the deal won't "spike pensions as some claim it will do. I believe the contract is both fair and balanced."
The deal is expected to save the county $22.6 million through fiscal year 2015-16, when it ends. The estimated total cost will be about $37.3 million.
Details of the private labor negotiations over two years with the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs recently surfaced in a report by the Voice of OC, which prompted a public quarrel between termed-out Supervisor John Moorlach and Supervisor Todd Spitzer.
Moorlach accused Spitzer of being an "agent" of the union, and Spitzer fired back that Moorlach was being hypocritical.
In April it appeared that the two sides would reach an agreement, but then Spitzer changed his mind on a deal point, according to Moorlach. That indicated that negotiations would hit an impasse and that they would be sent to a mediator, as has happened with other bargaining units, according to Moorlach..
Moorlach, however, said that he has since reached the conclusion that Spitzer changed his mind and called for another private session among the board so he could introduce new deal points from union leaders.
"They said, 'No, we want our pay increase immediately,' and that's when Todd realizes, 'Oh, I screwed up. I didn't put together the deal the way (union leaders) wanted it.' That's when we knew he was an agent (of the union)."
Moorlach said that now he doesn't feel he can trust Spitzer and that he thinks the supervisor "played" him.
Moorlach said a new ordinance he has proposed that would let the public know more about labor negotiations as they happen instead of after the fact could have prevented this conflict.
Spitzer laughed off that notion.
"He's trying to say (his ordinance) would prevent this when he supported a (proposal) that offset pension costs with salary increases," Spitzer said, adding he just "called him out on that inconsistency" in his interview with the Voice of OC.
"I'm not an agent for anybody," Spitzer said. "This is ridiculous."
Spitzer said Moorlach and board Chairman Shawn Nelson "have this mythological concept that I'm a middleman (for the union). They wanted it to go to impasse. Shawn has always wanted to stick it to the (union)."
A vote on Moorlach's ordinance allowing for more public discussion of labor negotiations was delayed again today until later this month.
--City News Service