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PD Editorial: The unknowns about new SEIU contract

  • SEIU members rally outside the Sonoma County administration building. (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat)

In the days before the Great Recession, the general public paid little heed to such things as renewal of labor contracts, primarily because they didn't have much of a chance to do so. The negotiations were done in private, the unions then voted and soon after the Board of Supervisors would ratify them. Only at that point did the public start to get an idea of what the contracts entailed and what they meant for the county's budget.

Unfortunately, the same process is taking place this time concerning a landmark labor contract for the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, which covers roughly half of the county's 3,7000 workers.

But times have changed. Public interest is heightened given several years of budget deficits, soaring retirement liabilities and declining dollars being available for basic functions such as pothole repair. Public interest is also high given the supervisors' commitment to roll back retirement costs to 10 percent of payroll, where costs traditionally were before the era of “enhanced” benefits kicked in beginning locally around 2004.

Since then, the county's costs have more than tripled and now stand at around 20 percent of payroll or roughly $100 million. If no changes are made, costs are projected to grow nearly 30 percent, to roughly $209 million a year, within 10 years.

Given what's at stake, readers might have expected more transparency this time around. The public, once again, would have been in the dark almost entirely if it weren't for the fact that SEIU posted the proposed three-year contract on its website. That freed the county to do the same.

But the public still won't see a full analysis of the contract — what it will mean for the county's overall budget, etc. — until Tuesday, a day after the union concludes its vote. If the union approves, the board is expected to vote on Tuesday as well, leaving outsiders little time to analyze and offer their input.

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