Mendo’s Thorny Law Enforcement Negotiations

by Mark Scaramella, July 3, 2010

All eight of Mendocino County's "bargaining units" are up for negotiation this year.

The "Department Head" bargaining unit, an oxymoronic joke anywhere but Mendocino County, has already agreed to a 10% pay cut. This "bargaining unit" includes all appointed department heads; the elected department heads previously had a 10% pay cut imposed on them without the benefit of "bargaining."

Elected Department Heads include: The Sheriff, the District Attorney, the Treasurer-Tax Collector, the Assessor-Clerk-Recorder and the County Auditor.

The appointed Department heads include, the Personnel (aka Human Resources) Manager, County Counsel, Water Agency Manager, Ag Commissioner, Probation Director, Health and Human Services Director, Library/Museum Director, Transportation Director, Child Support Services (aka Deadbeat Dad Collections) Director, General Services Director, Planning & Building Director, and the Public Defender, at a minimum. It might also include the Alternate Public Defender and the Library Director herself, but we're not sure exactly who all's in this illustrious collection of local executives.

Then there's the County’s "management bargaining unit" which includes most of the managers and supervisors above first line supervisors. So far, there's been nothing made public about the status of the manager's union contract negotiations.

The rest of the Bargaining Units include: the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), easily the largest of the County's bargaining units); the Deputy Sheriff's Association (which includes patrol deputies, sergeants, corrections officers, DA investigators, and a few welfare fraud investigators); MCLEMA (Mendocino County Law Enforcement Management Association); Confidential ("'Confidential employee' means an employee so designated by the Human Resources Director who, in the course of his/her duties, has access to confidential information relating to the County’s strategy development, position or funding regarding labor negotiations or employer-employee relations activities"); the Probation Officers Association; and MCPAA (Mendocino County Public Attorneys Association). There are a few "unrepresented" employees who are not identified, but who contract with the County individually.

Most interest these days centers around the ongoing Deputy Sheriff's Association negotiations which have become the focus of an intense and seemingly unresolvable (so far) dispute over how big the pay concessions the County's line law enforcement officers will take.

The rough parameters of the dispute are already on the record since the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 last month to cut the Sheriff's Patrol Unit (roughly half of his approximately $20 million budget) by $2 million. Since the Sheriff says he's already at minimum staffing for the jail, then the County is pressuring the DSA to absorb something like the $2 million in wage and benefit concessions. Mathematically -- and simplistically -- that's $2 million out of the patrol unit's $10 million budget, or 20%. If it all came out of layoffs of non-jail personnel, that would be 20% of about 90 total remaining staff, or 18 people, including eleven deputies.

Another approach, however, is to look at the base salary cost of the members of the DSA, which we understand is currently in the 150 range.

According to the latest County pay classifications, corrections deputies are paid from $54k to $62k. Patrol deputies get from $45k to $75k per year. And DA investigators get from $57 to $71k per year.

Assuming, then, that the DSA average base salary is in the range of $60k per year (not including overtime and payroll overhead costs), then there would be 150 officers times $60,000, or about $9 million in total base salary for the DSA. The rest of the Sheriff's budget is in management, vehicles, equipment, contracts, and non-peace officer staff, plus a substantial amount of overhead for pensions, facilities, office expenses, etc.

By these numbers, we see that to get the entire $2 million budget cut out of the DSA (without layoffs, resignations, retirements, etc.) would require more than a 20% reduction in pay. And indeed early numbers leaked out in May to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat indicated that the County was asking the DSA for 20-25% pay cuts.

Obviously, nobody in the DSA will voluntarily accept such huge cuts.

In the last two weeks, we've been approached by several of Mendocino County's law enforcement "community" who volunteered their opinions about the negotiations so far. This is the first time in more than 20 years that anyone from law enforcement has taken the initiative to talk to us about ongoing labor negotiations.

And the picture they paint is, predictably, not pretty.

Law enforcement, by law, cannot strike. Technically, the County can legally impose a "last and final offer" pay cut on the deputies and let the chips fall where they may.

The people who spoke to us say they might be willing to take a 10-12% pay cut. But no more than that. They add that so far the County refuses to offer anything less than a 15% cut, some of which may involve forcing the deputies to pay their entire pension cost, as has recently been proposed in Sonoma County.

Most DSA members are unwilling to accept the County's 15% or more pay cut offer, and something approaching a "negotiations impasse" looms in the not too distant future. If that happens, the County could impose a sizable pay cut on the DSA and take their chances on what would ensue.

Possibilities of what would ensue include some kind of a "blue flue" organized but short-term unofficial walk-out. (Although we also hear that a lot of deputies don't like that idea because of the poor PR that might result). More likely, deputies who have had their pay cut by 15% or more will not only experience another blow to their already low morale, but, of course, will start looking for better paying work elsewhere.

If pay is reduced to the point that deputies start to quit, not only will Mendo lose their services with little chance of being replaced (at reduced salaries), but the incentive for corruption will increase.

Let's quickly add here that we don't realistically expect that deputies will turn to corruption (under the table pot-money payments come to mind), but historically, when cops are paid too little, there's always the chance that a few will start looking at other sources of income supplements.

In addition, Mendo could lose $100k-$150k per deputy if (and when) they have to re-recruit and re-train replacements.

It's quite possible that the County fully intends and expects some law enforcement people to quit by forcing unreasonable salary reductions on them. To the bean counters, that would be gravy on top of the pay cuts. Not only would the County get huge immediate salary savings, but every deputy who quits is a deputy they don't have to pay, or lay-off with accompanying unemployment payments.

Shortsighted and dumb, you say? Of course -- this is Mendocino County.

One other wild card in this dismal equation is asset forfeiture money. Upward of $2 million in seized marijuana-related assets is put into the County coffers each year lately, although as it's presently allocated less than half of that goes to the Sheriff’s department. Some people think that asset forfeiture money could be used to pay a portion of deputy overtime (and supplement their reduced pay) if that overtime is clearly not part of the "basic operation" of the Sheriff's Department.

Others close to the issue, however, insist that using asset forfeiture money for any form of deputy pay is clearly illegal and should not even be brought up in any labor discussions. We agree that it's illegal. But, again, this is Mendocino County.

At an early may Board of Supervisors Budget discussion, County CEO Carmel Angelo reported, "“Not including the jail, the Sheriff’s Office now has 3 captains, 5 lieutenants, 14 sergeants and 42 filled deputy positions, and about 36 clerical and non-sworn.”

Ms. Angelo's apparent implication was that the Sheriff's patrol division has too much management and supervision. None of the Supervisors, however, remarked on Ms. Angelo's law enforcement numbers, nor their implication.

But remember, the Sheriff has an enormous County to cover and even with only 42 patrol deputies, they need a minimum number of experienced location supervisors and shift supervisors the outlying areas including Covelo, Willits, Laytonville, the South Coast, Fort Bragg, and the 24-hour shift coverage in Ukiah.

If we're going to look at the number of supervisors and managers in the Sheriff's Department, it would only be fair to look at equivalent numbers on the County's other departments. But Ms. Angelo has never reported the numbers and ratios in the other County departments even though the Board and Ms. Angelo have repeatedly said they need to look at supervisor-to-staff ratios.

Nor has one supervisor ever asked for a report of staffing/supervisor ratios by department, even though they frequently insist that they have looked at them time and again.

The law enforcement people we've talked to also are quick to point out that it looks real bad for County management to have taken a 10% cut when, at the same time, they're asking the deputies to take 15%, 20% or 25% cuts. And two Supervisors -- David Colfax and Kendall Smith -- have yet to even take the 10% voluntary time off that their three confederates have taken.

Before highly trained public safety officers are asked to take big pay cuts, the Board better do a lot better job in convincing them -- and the public -- that they've done everything they can to fairly examine and cut other departments, and especially management and senior staff.

But so far, it's pretty obvious to the public and their own deputies, that nothing like that has been done.

The backdrop for all of this is the county's and the state's ever-worsening revenue declines. California's budget situation is the worst in the nation. The State is already talking about another round of IOUs in a few weeks instead of paychecks for state workers. Mendocino County's general fund revenues (mostly sales taxes and property taxes) continue to decline as well. Nobody's even considering any form of tax increases or proposals at any level of government.

So even if the DSA gives up a significant portion of their pay, the problem will only be postponed. The first draft of the deficit budget for next fiscal year, July 2011 to June 2012, is supposed to be presented to the Board of Supervisors in August. And, even in the best-case scenario, by that time, the DSA will have already given up all they're going to give up.

One Response to Mendo’s Thorny Law Enforcement Negotiations

  1. I support Mendocino County Law Enforcement Reply

    July 3, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Please visit the “I support Mendocino County Law Enforcement” Facebook page to stay informed on this issue and how to contact your District Supervisor to voice you opinions

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