About 3,200 Tulare County employees will get a raise for the first time in six years.
On July 21, the County signed a tentative agreement with Services Employees International Union (SEIU) for a 3% raise this year, according to Kermit Wullschleger, part of the negotiating team for the Local 521. The Board of Supervisors was expected to formally approve the labor contract at its July 29 meeting, which happened after press time.
“We really tried to get more for the employees but we think it is a good deal for one year,” Wullschleger said.
SEIU represents about 3,200 County employees including maintenance workers, office assistants, social workers and cooks at the County Jail. If approved, the deal represents the first raise for those employees since a 2.7% increase on Nov. 21, 2008, when happened just before Tulare County froze wages, merit increases or benefit increases. Wullschleger said the employees did not see even a cost of living increase even after the freeze was lifted in 2011.
“If you spread the 3% over the last six years it only works out to a .5% increase per year,” he said.
Wullschleger said SEIU was originally fighting for a three-year contract with a 3% annual raise for a 9% raise over the next three years. He said this would have put these employees in line with the 9% raise the Supervisors gave themselves in three increments from 2012-2013. Because Supervisor salaries are tied to the four elected officials below them – sheriff/coroner, auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector/registrar of voter, district attorney and assessor/clerk- recorder – they receive a raise whenever any of the other elected officials receive one. In September 2012, the Supervisors unanimously voted to give Rita Woodard, County’s auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector/registrar of voters, a 5% increase. That increase is then divided by the number of elected officials (4) and then given as an increase (1.5%) to the Supervisors. However, Supervisors Steven Worthley and Pete Vander Poel did not take the increase. Earlier that same year, the Supervisors voted themselves a raise was calculated by splitting the cost of living increase of 2.75% and the average 10% increase half of the County’s employees received in August 2012. The raise narrowly passed 3-2 with Worthley and Vander Poel voting against it.
The Supervisors also voted to give managers, four elected division heads and investigators raises. Wullschleger said County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau received a 10% raise and now makes $185,398 per year, more than Gov. Jerry Brown who makes $173,987 per year in Sacramento.
Tulare County workers are paid less than their counterparts in neighboring counties, including Kings County. Despite having one-third of the population of Tulare County, Wullschleger said he is paid $63,000 per year, $7,000 less than his master’s level social worker peers in Kings County. He also noted eligibility workers in Tulare County make $6,000 less than their Kings County counterparts.
Furthermore, Wullschleger said the lowest paid employees pay the highest percentage of their health insurance while the highest paid employees pay the lowest share of health coverage.
“We feel like this issues needs to be looked at addressed by an outside agency,” Wullschleger said.
That’s why SEIU employees are forming a “watchdog” group to work toward initiating an independent audit of County finances, wages and promotion policies. The group has already sent a letter to state representatives asking to have the Joint State Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) approve a State Audit to “investigate what we perceive may be a gross mismanagement of taxpayer money.”Any member of the Legislature, or committee of the Legislature, can make an audit request by submitting a letter to the Chair of the JLAC. Audits by the JLAC represent about half of the audits conducted each year by the Bureau of State Audits. But that only adds up to about 35 per year. Wullschleger said it will take some intense planning to ensure the JLAC gets to the audit in a timely manner.
“Right now we are tired from the negotiations, but we will come back next month and begin the process for the audit,” he said. “We are serious about this but it is more complex than we first thought, so it’s going to take some time.”