Contra Costa sets example for union contracts


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A tentative deal with 5,000 Contra Costa County employees goes before supervisors Tuesday. There are cuts, but it also puts labor relations on a new level.

Animal control officers are among the 5,000 workers who have agreed to take a big hit as the budget noose tightens.

After nine months and 40 face-to-face negotiating sessions, three unions in Contra Costa County have agreed to give up lifetime retiree health coverage for new employees, split future health premium increases, take six unpaid furlough days annually and no wage increases.

That amounts to an almost 3 percent loss in pay and benefits to people like public health nurse William Swenson.

"Not going on vacation this year, staying close to home, also stay in touch with eyes and ears close to the ground to see if I and my wife, who also works for the county, still have jobs," Swenson said.

Negotiators for the unions know the recession has created a budget crisis. They also have gone through some layoffs. So concessions may ease future uncertainty.

"It will hopefully mean fewer layoffs, and there's no guarantee there won't be more layoffs, but it gives us the stability of knowing, 'here's what we have for the next two years;' if the budget gets even worse, which we fear it will with the state budget, we've got a contract," Public Employees Union Local 1 spokesperson Rollie Katz said.

County supervisor Federal Glover says residents also win with the contract concessions by saving cuts in services.

"Reality is that there's a lot less money out there, and the ability to deliver services are just something we are only going to be able to do by having the kind of contract we put in place today," Glover said.

The tentative agreement covers the next two years and is being heralded as an example of the kind of give-and-take needed to keep government operating during tough times.

Both sides say it may be years before employees make up the cuts they are facing now.

All of this puts pressure on BART and its unions with the Thursday contract extension deadline approaching. The argument goes, if Contra Costa County can do it, maybe so should BART.

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