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Local SEIU ratifies Sonoma County contract with pay hikes, benefits

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Sonoma County’s largest labor union has ratified a tentative contract with the county, a deal reached after months of tense negotiations that is expected to grant 2,200 rank-and-file government workers their most substantial pay and benefits increases in more than eight years.

Officials with the Service Employees’ International Union Local 1021 said 99.03 percent of the 1,140 union members who cast ballots voted in favor of the deal, reached Feb. 20. Voting ended Saturday.

“That really tells me that we have our membership behind us,” said Joel Evans-Fudem, a senior office assistant in the county’s Family, Youth and Children’s Services division who is also on the union’s bargaining team. “I think the tides have turned as far as worker apathy.”

Union negotiators called on county officials for months to raise their offer, decrying what many described as years of income stagnation and rising heath care costs. The standoff escalated in November, when the union staged a three-day strike — Sonoma County’s first in more than three decades.

The contract is expected to be approved by the Board of Supervisors on March 15.

Upon final approval, union members would get an immediate 3 percent pay increase and a $620 one-time payment. Another 3 percent pay increase would go into effect in March 2017, for a total 6 percent increase over the entire 28-month contract period.

The tentative contract also includes increases in county health care contributions. The increases are based on 80 percent of the Kaiser HMO plan offered by the county. Under the new terms, the county would pay $557 per month for a health care plan that covers one person, $1,113 for couples and $1,575 for families, according to union officials. The monthly county contribution is currently a flat $500 for all plans.

The increases will cost the county $16.72 million a year, along with a one-time $1.16 million cost the first year, county spokeswoman Rebecca Wachsberg said.

At present, total payroll for county employees covered by the union is $180 million, without factoring in the increases.

County Administrator Veronica Ferguson described the tentative contract as “fiscally responsible.”

“We have worked hard to develop a benefit and compensation package that balances our responsibility to the public while being fair to our employees, without whom we could not provide critical services to our community.” Ferguson said. “We made progress towards our pension goals, and found ways to make health care more affordable for our employees and their families.”

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.

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