Ventura County OKs Tentative Labor Contract

Times Staff Writers

Government employees will receive a 4.75% salary increase over 15 months and retain control over their health plans, according to a tentative contract approved Tuesday by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.

The contract, which calls for the county to pay an extra $6 million in wages and benefits, must now be ratified by members of the Public Employees Assn. of Ventura County, the county's largest government union.

Members of the union, who have until Oct. 5 to approve or reject the contract, heard details of the agreement between county and union negotiators at a meeting Tuesday night.

Terms of the contract were reached earlier Monday. The union had threatened to launch a full-scale strike the next day.

"I think we can live with it," Supervisor Maggie Erickson said. "I'm very pleased we were able to reach an agreement and avert a strike."

Barry Hammitt, the union's executive director, called the pending contract the "best package available at this point in time" and urged rank-and-file members to accept it.

The union originally sought a 9.5% salary increase over two years, whereas county negotiators offered 4.25%. An early compromise of a 5.25% increase over two years was scrapped when negotiators were unable to agree on other issues, including a mandatory union-membership fee that the county opposed.

Under the tentative agreement, government employees will receive a 2.25% increase now and a 2.5% increase in May, 1988.

In addition, 450 employees who have special duties will receive increases of 2.5% to 7% to bring their salaries in line with workers performing similar duties in nearby counties. These employees include agricultural inspectors, senior librarians and animal-control officers.

The tentative contract also calls for:

The union to drop a proposal to collect mandatory union fees from all employees eligible for union membership. Employees would have been forced to pay the fees.

No change in current health-care plans. County negotiators had sought to take control of employee health care as long as the county's decisions complied with good business practices.

A study to determine retirement benefits for deputy probation officers.

An increase in textbook and tuition allowances based on the value of unused vacation time, for which the county remunerates employees.

Elimination of a six-month probation period for employees who transfer to a different county department.

Union spokesman Bob Lawrence said ratification ballots will be mailed to members and must be returned by Oct. 5. The union has 13 bargaining units for its different work classifications, and each unit must approve the contract by a majority vote.

Only once, in 1977, did a unit fail to give majority approval to a contract, forcing negotiators to return to the bargaining table, Lawrence said.

5 Months of Talks

If ratified, the agreement will end five months of negotiations between the county and the union, which has 2,500 members. However, about 4,000 of Ventura County's 5,740 employees are eligible for representation by the union, union officials said.

The county's contract with the union expired June 30.

Lawrence said all union members were back at work Tuesday. Although no formal strike was called, 300 to 400 social-service employees failed to report to work Monday. About 15 librarians did not show up for work Sunday in Ojai and Simi Valley. And most of the county's 100 road and flood-control workers walked out Friday, as did clerical workers who process inmates at the Ventura County Jail.

Employees of the Fire and Sheriff's departments have their own unions and would not have been affected by a strike. And both sides had agreed all along that workers at the Ventura County Medical Center's emergency room and infant-care facility would continue to work in the event of a strike.

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