SEBA Accepts Benefit Cutbacks

In the face of San Bernardino County’s imminent imposition of labor terms on them that would have included a 14 percent pay and benefit reduction, the county’s county’s probation corrections officers, deputy coroner’s investigators and welfare fraud investigators accepted terms they had previously rejected.

The probation officers, coroner’s investigators and welfare fraud investigators are represented by the same union that does the contract negotiating for the county’s sheriff’s deputies and district attorney’s office investigators, the Safety Employees Benefit Association, known by its acronym, SEBA.

SEBA and its president, Laren Lecihleiter, have proven resistant to the declared intention of county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux to make across-the-board reductions to the county’s personnel costs, including reducing salaries, pensions and benefits to all county employees in an effort to redress what Devereaux has termed the county’s structural deficit, which will manifest in a deficit of more than $120 million over the next five years if current spending patterns are not changed.

The county initiated negotiations with SEBA ten months ago with a mind toward Devereaux’s goal, but was unable to get the union to accept the cuts the county calculates it needs to put in place to make ends meet over the next several years.

There are different units within SEBA, including one that represents sheriff’s deputies, corporals, detectives, sergeants and lieutenants, another that represents the district attorney’s office investigators, and the one that represents the probation officers, coroner’s investigators and welfare fraud investigators. The unit representing the probation officers, coroner’s investigators and welfare fraud investigators is known as the special peace officers bargaining unit.

The special peace officers bargaining unit has the least clout among SEBA’s differing units. Nevertheless, the way in which negotiations between the county and the special peace officers unit fared was considered a bellwether for how negotiations will go between the county and the other units.

In June, the county made a last, best and final offer” calling for a 14 percent cut in pay and benefits. Normally, a last, best and final offer provides an employer with the legal authority to submit those terms to an arbitrator, who can then impose those terms on union workers if the employer can demonstrate the economic necessity of doing so. In October, an arbitrator made a determination that the county would be justified in imposing a 7 percent reduction on the special peace officers, but SEBA refused to accept those terms.

On December 13, the board of supervisors, in a show of impatience with SEBA, voted 3-2 to deliver an ultimatum that the bargaining unit accept what the arbitrator offered in October or that the county would otherwise impose its last, best and final offer. Supervisors Neil Derry and Brad Mitzelfelt dissented in the vote of the board of supervisors to impose the terms, but they were outmuscled politically by supervisors Josie Gonzales, Gary Ovitt and Janice Rutherford.

In short order, SEBA conducted a vote of its special peace officers bargaining unit, in which 72 percent of the unit’s members participated. In that polling, all who cast ballots voted unanimously to accept the arbitrator’s October terms, i.e., the elimination of the county’s 7 percent pickup of the employees’ share of retirement contributions, a reduction in annual merit raises from 5 percent to 2.5 percent, and the union’s agreement to the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the county’s refusal to grant the employees a 3 percent at 50 retirement benefits package, which the union maintains is a standard benefit for sworn law-enforcement officers throughout the state.

The county began negotiations this month with SEBA representatives with regard to labor terms for the union’s safety unit, which includes sheriff’s deputies, sheriff’s detectives and district attorney’s investigators. Unspoken at this point is the county’s desire to have the deputies give back the 3 percent at 50 retirement benefit package the county has been providing to the safety unit since 2003.

While Leichleiter and SEBA are intent on maintaining the retirement benefit as it is, SEBA’s concession in withdrawing the lawsuit pertaining to extending the benefit to the special peace officer’s unit, the consideration that the Colton Police Officers Association recently agreed to withdraw that benefit from any new-hires to the Colton police department, and the county’s increasingly dire financial circumstance augers against the union.

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