Sonoma County employees secure raises, increased health benefits in new deal
Sonoma County and the union representing more than half of its workforce have reached a tentative contract deal, ending a bargaining standoff that dragged out in public for months and spurred the first strike by county workers in more than three decades.
Officials with the Service Employees’ International Union Local 1021 said its bargaining team and the county agreed on pay and benefit increases for 2,200 rank-and-file county employees around 3 a.m. Saturday.
“It’s just amazing,” said Lisa Maldonado, field director for the union. “I think it’s a great deal, and it addresses one of the biggest problems our members have had — high health care costs.”
Under terms spelled out in the tentative deal, employees will have received a 6 percent pay increase after one year and significant increases in health care contributions, according to the union. If the deal is ratified, employees will get their first 3 percent pay bump immediately and a $620 one-time payment. The remaining 3 percent pay increase would go into effect in March 2017. The contract would last 28 months, according to union officials.
The union is expected to vote on the deal Wednesday, Maldonado said. The agreement would then go to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
County officials were tight-lipped about the deal Saturday.
“I’m pleased an agreement has been reached,” said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, board chairman. “That’s all I can say until it goes through SEIU’s process for a vote.”
County officials also declined to disclose the cost for pay and benefits increases. Union officials estimated the total annual cost at $18 million.
Total payroll for the county workers covered by SEIU Local 1021 is $180 million, without factoring in the increases.
Omar Medina, a county eligibility worker who is on the union’s bargaining team, praised new health benefits secured in the deal.
“Sonoma County’s families are the big winners here,” Medina said. “We’ve gone through a long period of cuts and sacrifices since 2008 and our members have been struggling with the high cost of living. We feel that this deal is a restoration of benefits now that the county is prospering.”
The county is increasing the dollar amount it pays for health plan premiums based on 80 percent of the cost of the Kaiser HMO plan offered by the county. At present, all employees are offered a flat $500 per month regardless of the number of people in the plan. Under new terms, the county would cover up to $1,575 per month for plans that include three people or more; $1,113 for couples; and $557 for one person, according to Medina.
Since contract talks began, union officials have pressed the county to cover a percentage of premiums to keep pace with rising health care costs. Prior to 2008, the county covered 85 percent of costs, with employees picking up the remainder.
“Even though we didn’t get the percentage, we still feel like this is a big gain,” Medina said. “Our main thing is ensuring people can afford health care coverage.”
County Administrator Veronica Ferguson said last week that she was “optimistic” a deal would be finalized by March 1, the date of the next Board of Supervisors’ meeting. She issued a statement Saturday.
“The board values its workforce and is dedicated to providing competitive compensation and affordable health care for all county employees, while responsibly balancing the funding of all county programs and services,” Ferguson said.
You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ahartreports.