County reaches agreement with employee union

After two years of negotiations marked by back-and-forth accusations of political chicanery, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a new contract with the county's biggest employee union Tuesday.

The agreement between the county and the Orange County Employees Assn. — which represents about 12,000 workers under 393 different job classifications — will be in place through June 2015.

The new contract's provisions include a 1.25% raise, as well as a one-time bonus of the same amount, which current employees will receive next month. It also includes changes to workers' health insurance plans aimed at saving more than $5 million per year.

Ultimately, a county news release said, the agreement will create an annual net cost of about $1.4 million to the county.

All eight of the smaller bargaining units represented by OCEA had previously voted to ratify the contract, and the Board of Supervisors' unanimous vote to approve the document came this week largely without comment.

Later, county and union officials called the contract a compromise — but one they were relieved to complete.

"This has been a long and difficult process ... " board Chairman Shawn Nelson said in a statement. "But we're thankful that the mediator was able to bring us together for a compromise solution."

OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino echoed that sentiment, saying the agreement "didn't give us everything, but didn't give the county everything."

Berardino, who also sits on the Orange County Fair Board, added that the union considers the contract a "bridge agreement" that gives negotiators an opportunity to work in collaboration with the county on remaining issues.

"In general, we want to begin to work on a way to set salaries that is excluded from the political process," he said.

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