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County implements state-mandated lower pensions for new hires

A day after many of its signature overhaul proposals were rejected in a lopsided union vote, Sonoma County took action Tuesday to implement state-mandated changes to employee pensions.

The changes, most of which do not require labor's approval, affect mainly future hires and are expected to help curb rising taxpayer costs over the long run.

Annual savings are projected to top $1.2 million in the first year and grow to more than $17 million by 2022, according to a county actuary.

County officials cited those figures as progress despite other signs of a growing standoff with labor at the county government campus Tuesday.

"We're starting to move. It's really encouraging," said County Administrator Veronica Ferguson.

Meanwhile, union representatives were emboldened after the county's largest labor group on Monday overwhelmingly rejected a proposed contract that included pay concessions and pension rollbacks outside of the state-ordered revisions.

While not opposed to some pension changes, union representatives said they could not accept the contract's central one, a proposal that would have shifted an additional share of pension premiums, equivalent to 2.25 percent of pay, onto employees.

The result would be a reduction in take-home pay. The union has already experienced a five-year freeze in cost-of-living adjustments to wages. They have received pay increases based on merit and experience levels.

"We can't afford to keep cutting," said Tim Tuscany, a psychiatric nurse and bargaining team member with Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

The union's 1,700 county workers include mostly lower-paid line staff. On Monday, their voting ranks turned down a three-year contract with the county, with 83 percent of those participating in the election voting no.

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