Tuolumne County workers' deal stalls

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Contract talks have broken down between Tuolumne County government leaders and the union that represents 280 county professional, road and miscellaneous employees.

The county and the Operating Engineers Local 3 have been unable to reach an agreement on a new contract, even after two attempts at mediation. An impasse was declared in September.

With negotiations stalled, the union and county are scheduled to participate in a hearing later this month that represents the final step in the mediation process. And if that process doesn't produce a new contract, negotiations go back to square one.

The split appears to be over pension contributions and pay increases, with the county reportedly offering a two-term contract that includes a 1 percent raise and a 6.25 percent employee pension contribution. Union leadership is seeking a higher cost-of-living increase.

County negotiators have also extended an alternative proposal that would include no raise and a 7 percent pension contribution, according to the county.

Operating Engineers Local 3 represents the county's general labor employees, skilled trade workers, road workers and professional employees in planning, engineering, social work and other areas.

Their contract, along with all bargaining agreements with the county, expired on June 30.

Local 3 is the last group still stuck in contract talks.

During what is known as a fact-finding hearing, each side will present the terms that they seek to a panel that will eventually make a recommendation. The county Board of Supervisors will then be able to either accept that recommendation or impose the terms of the alternative contract at 7 percent pension contribution and no raise.

The contract imposed onto the employees would be good for the remainder of the fiscal year through July 30, and the two parties would have to start anew on negotiations, Human Resources Director Ann Fremd said.

"I've been with the county for 10 years, and I don't recall us ever having mediation," Fremd said on Tuesday.

According to the county, the average pay in wages and benefits for the members totals $52,813 for general, $55,116 for skilled trades, $62,928 for roads and $70,565 for professional.

"We are hopeful we can eventually reach an agreement," County Administrator Craig Pedro said in a press release.

Mike Eggener, a representative with the union, said this week that the Local 3 has had a good relationship with Tuolumne County for a long time. He said the union membership is willing to accept increased employee contributions for pensions if they get a cost-of-living increase closer to the 5 percent the county approved for the non-sworn employees in the Sheriff's Office.

Like with the Operating Engineers Local 3, the county and its Deputy Sheriffs Association reached an impasse during contract talks. But the parties got back together and agreed to a contract in the fall.

Eggener said they were surprised that Local 3 members didn't see a similar offer, especially given that sheriff's employees are paid through the county's general fund and only 60 percent of these employees are paid through the general fund.

"When we saw what the county agreed to with the DSA, we asked for the same thing," he said. "That's been the big stickler with us. When we saw they were going to do this with the DSA, we thought that we have a way smaller impact on the General Fund."

Eggener said the union is still willing to come back to the table with the county even up to the fact-finding hearing.

Contact Chris Caskey at ccaskey@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4527.

The Union Democrat
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