Tulare County, SEIU reach labor deal
Two-year contract gives 3,226 employees a 2% raise, additional health insurance contributions
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
TULARE COUNTY – After a public showdown with administration over wage increases and its budgeting process, Tulare County’s largest union and employer have reached an agreement for more than 3,000 employees.
At its Oct. 8 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a 2-year contract with Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) bargaining units representing 3,226 people in clerical, crafts/trades, technical, social sciences, health services and supervisory roles. The contract includes a 2% raise per year, additional health insurance contributions, and some concessions for specific groups.
The first 2% salary increase for the 2019-20 fiscal year will take effect on Nov. 5, the next full pay period following adoption by the Board of Supervisors . The salary increase for the 2020-21 fiscal year will take effect on July 5, 2020. A little over 110 employees will receive a raise even earlier as the County will increase minimum wage workers to $13 per hour on Nov. 5 instead of waiting until Jan. 1, 2020.
SEIU had been negotiating for a 3% increase as well as asking the County to implement additional equity raises where studies have shown employees to be underpaid and improvements to the basic health insurance plan to reduce copays, and to lower deductibles and out of pocket maximums. The County only offered 2%, which matched the increase given to the four county elected officials (Sheriff-Coroner, District Attorney, County Assessor/Clerk Recorder, and Auditor-Controller/Treasurer-Tax Collector) and the five Supervisors. County staff said the amounts were reached independently through separate negotiations.
The County also argued during the budget hearing last month that every attempt was made to leave more money in the pockets of every employee, mostly by restructuring its health care plans. Rhonda Sjostrom, Human Resources & Development Director for Tulare County, said the county invested $4.5 million into a plan to decrease Medical deductibles from $1,000 to $750, reduce the out-of-pocket maximum from $4,000 to $3,500, lower co-pays from $45 to $25 for primary care and $45 to $35 for specialists for more than 1,900 employees.
Tulare County is also the first government agency in California to contract with an innovative company 98point6, named after the human body’s optimum temperature. The company offers virtual doctor visits via text messaging as well as phone calls and online videos instead of driving to a doctor’s office. By using the service, Sjostrom said employees will not have a copay or any cost for the visit for and the county will not incur a claim cost for insurance. After an initial video interaction, county employees will be able to get prescriptions written out online and sent to a pharmacy. Sjostrom said county employees need to collectively use the service at least 286 times for the county to break even on its investment.
In addition to those system-wide moves, the County also provided some additional contributions to health plans for SEIU bargaining units. The County will contribute an additional $100 per pay period for SEIU members and allows them to opt out of the County’s health insurance plan if they can prove the employee and their dependents are covered by another plan. Employees hired after Sept. 13, 2009 who opted out of the insurance plan will receive an in-lieu contribution of $1,000 per year or $41.67 per pay period.
Several concessions were granted to employees in specific jobs. Welders and mechanics using their own tools will receive a $1,000 reimbursement for the replacement and usage of tools as long as the employee has passed their probationary period. A second tool reimbursement of $250 per year is available for welders and mechanics who have completed their first year with the County. Mechanics, welders, stock clerks and custodians will also receive a $150 annual allowance for clothing and boots. Custodial employees will also provided with 11 uniforms and one jacket per year.
Other highlights of the agreement include new electronic filing requirements for new hire packets, replaced unit membership with a dues deduction section that says union dues will not be deducted if the number of unpaid work days, such as furloughs or strikes, exceeds the amount of health care insurance deductions. The new agreement added a section to denouncing bullying and abusive conduct by a supervisor or an employee.
-This article was updated at 9 a.m. PST on Oct. 17, 2019.