County Imposes Contract Concessions On Deputy Prosecutors & Public Defenders

(April 26) SAN BERNARDINO –Unable to wring from the San Bernardino County Public Attorneys Union voluntary contract concessions similar to those made by other county employee bargaining units, the county board of supervisors last week voted to unanimously impose on deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders arbitrator-endorsed salary and benefit terms.
In response, the president of the attorneys’ labor association, John Thomas, told the board “a long road of lawsuits” challenging the unilaterally-imposed working conditions is likely in the offing and that a strike that would bring criminal justice processes in the county to a halt is also possible. “We’re willing to go down that road. This isn’t a threat,” Thomas told the board, saying he recognized that a work stoppage by prosecutors and public defenders would compromise public safety.
Thomas complained that San Bernardino County’s lawyers, who are being paid $11,693 per month or $140,316 per year, make $1,000 per month less than their counterparts in neighboring Riverside County.
The soonest Thomas can make good on his litigative or strike commitments will be on May 8, when the union’s board next meets.
David Wert, the county’s public information officer, said the board had imposed “fair contract terms” and that the action was “saving taxpayers an estimated $3.6 million over the next 14 months and avoiding potential reductions in public service. The county negotiated in good faith with the union for more than two years, even though most labor agreements are reached within six months. The process included independent arbitration requested by the union, which concluded the county’s offer was the best option for both sides and for the taxpayers.”
Beginning in 2011, county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux began seeking across-the-board contract concessions from all of the county’s employee bargaining units to offset skyrocketing governmental operating costs and end what he termed an “institutional structural deficit” plaguing the county. Several of the county employee unions came to terms with Devereaux, though not all were ready to accept the economies he proposed.
Devereaux achieved a major breakthrough when he convinced the county firefighters union to agree to pick up the 7 percent  the county had been paying into the firefighters’ retirement accounts and decrease their annual promotional increases from 5 percent to 2.5 percent. But the firefighters’ union had made those concessions conditional upon the other bargaining groups making concessions. Devereaux made some headway with all of the unions except the Public Attorneys Association, which refused to voluntarily accept the downward pay scale and benefit adjustments. Upon being what it considered pressured to do so, the association in July 2011 filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board.
Thomas and the union board have sought to make an issue of what was characterized as generous pay and benefit packages for Devereaux, the third highest paid county administrator in the state, and the board of supervisors, the members of which receive salary and benefits that are comparable to or exceed those of supervisors in most other counties.
At the same time, the public attorneys in San Bernardino County have salaries that are competitive with most other California counties and actually receive $1,400 per month more than deputy defenders and prosecutors in San Diego County.
Wert said the lawyers’ union and its members were simply unwilling to participate in absorbing the negative impact of financial challenges facing the county that other county employees had, and that led to the imposition of the terms.
“The union would not agree to bear the same sacrifices accepted by all other county employees during the current negotiating cycle to help avoid layoffs and preserve public service during the economic downturn,” Wert said.

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