‘Throw The Bums Out’

by Mark Scaramella, November 30, 2011

Louise "Wheezer" Gonyo was recently elected president of SEIU Local 1021. Gonyo is assumed to be one of the SEIU hardliners who claim the County is insisting on wage concessions simply to break the union, not to balance the budget. The SEIU rank and file are being told that the County would settle for nothing less than the recently imposed 12.5% pay cut. The warring factions reportedly had agreed to a mediator-recommended settlement at 10%. Most employees would probably take the 10% instead of an imposed 12.5%, but their union is telling them that 10% is not available. But the current County budget was premised on a 10% salary savings from SEIU, as plainly stated in the background info for the budget.

The SEIU leadership has issued a call for “regime change,” the updated catchphrase for “throw the bums out.” Three Supes positions will be up for election next year. If SEIU can make a clean sweep, they can get rid of the incumbent supervisors and CEO Carmel Angelo who is being painted as a union busting privatizer from San Diego. Angelo was hired as Health and Human Services director four or five years ago. When the economic collapse kicked in, Angelo moved swiftly to lop HHSA jobs, and was so ruthlessly good at it she was moved into the CEO's office to whack away at the entire County workforce. She then replaced her hapless boss, Tom “Silent Tom” Mitchell who resigned under pressure not quite two years ago. The County was faced with a chronic structural deficit at the time with expenses routinely outpacing revenues. Angelo immediately got out her combat hatches to attack the budget deficit via layoffs, program cuts and wage concessions, actions that have produced a balanced budget, but have not won Angelo any friends among rank and file workers.

The County and SEIU have charged each other with unfair labor practices, a drama that will play out before the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB). Resolution of the PERB charges promises to be an expensive and long drawn out affair, further bleeding the County, which recently hired Myers Nave, accurately pegged by SEIU as a union busting law firm. The County says it had no choice when SEIU filed an injunction to stop the 12.5% pay cut on a Friday and the County had to respond by the following Monday.

Meanwhile, the County's economic outlook just got infinitely worse. A recent State Supreme Court case out of Orange County has held that health insurance benefits that were “clearly promised” to retirees, even if they were not part of a collective bargaining agreement, are a vested right that the County must honor. For several decades the County “promised” its employees, in the form of assurances in the employee's handbook, that County retirees would have paid healthcare for life. Prior to the latest court ruling, the County decided that life ended about two years ago when they cut off the benefit before a crowd of angry white-haired retirees. The unfunded liability for retiree health insurance at the time was pegged at around $130 million and the County had no way to pay for it. If the latest ruling applies to us, and it looks like it does, it means there will likely be more pay cuts and layoffs.

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