Union votes on contract proposal that cuts county pension costs

Long-sought changes to curb Sonoma County's public pension costs are included in a proposed labor contract that covers about half the county workforce and is up for approval by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The proposal could set in motion pension and pay rollbacks for the remainder of the county's 3,400 workers, including unionized and unrepresented workers, managers and elected officials.

But action by the Board of Supervisors depends on the deal's approval by members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the county's largest bargaining group, representing mostly lower-paid line staff.

Final results of an SEIU election that started this Tuesday will not be known until Monday night, hours before the supervisors' next meeting. Sources say approval is far from certain.

The tentative contract is the first for the county's 11 bargaining groups to include both county-proposed and state-mandated changes to pensions, revisions that affect current and future employees.

According to the latest state figures, Sonoma County has the second highest per capita pension debt in California, where mounting pressure from taxpayers who have seen their retirements vanish is forcing the overhaul of a public pension system that many say is no longer sustainable.

A central provision of the contract would shift an additional share of pension premiums, equivalent to 2.25 percent of pay, onto employees.

New employees would be shifted into a new, lower tier of pension benefits expected to cost taxpayers less over the long term.

Other changes affecting current employees would scale back or eliminate types of non-salary pay that can add to pensions. Those include cashouts of accrued vacation and sick leave, which would be exempted from pension calculations, and payments into a controversial deferred compensation retirement program that benefits mostly higher-paid employees. They would be eliminated.

Only a small fraction of SEIU workers get those additional retirement dollars and the union has lobbied heavily to end the benefit.

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