HARD WIN A new labor contract for San Benito County workers represented by SEIU was approved by county legislators Tuesday Oct. 24 after months of negotiations and outdoor rallies by employees.

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors voted this week to tentatively increase their own salaries from $48,000 to $75,000, after approving numerous labor contracts.

“I don’t necessarily agree with the numbers, per se, but that’s part of my research that I’m doing,” said Suzy Caston, a child support specialist and president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 chapter for San Benito County, in reference to the proposed raise.

A county supervisor’s salary is $48,194 for part-time hours.

The board voted 4-1 on Tuesday, Oct. 24 to proceed with discussions of a 56 percent salary increase, which would boost a supervisor’s pay to $75,015 in 2018, when the ordinance comes back for a second reading and possible adoption at the Nov. 7 meeting. Supervisor Robert Rivas was the sole dissenter.

Like all other county employees, the supervisors will receive a 3.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment that would increase their salaries to $49,645.

If adopted at the November meeting, the new raise wouldn’t go into effect until January 2018 because the statute requires a 60-day waiting period after adoption, according to county officials.

The supervisor pay increase discussion and vote came right after the board approved new employment terms with county employees. The action drew skepticism from the union representative at the meeting.

“Right now on the heels of our [memorandums of understanding] that we had to fight pretty hard for, maybe it’s a more of a timing issue that I’m struggling with,” Caston said. “Maybe if this had come up 10 to 12 months down the road I wouldn’t have such a question about it.”

The union and other labor bargaining groups have negotiated with the county for months over wage increases, county health care contributions to offset increasing costs and continued holiday office closures established in the past.

After months of talks in closed session and outdoor rallies held by SEIU, both parties reached a tentative agreement on Oct. 4.

Highlights of the county’s agreement with SEIU Local 521 include a 3.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment effective this month, a 0.5 percent cost of living adjustment effective in April 2018 and a 3 percent cost of living adjustment effective in October 2018.

There are also additional signing bonuses of $1,200 to be paid this month and a $1,000 signing bonus effective in October 2018. SEIU workers will receive four paid holiday dates this December and three paid holiday dates in December 2018.

Similar agreements were reached with the other bargaining groups, including the Deputy Sheriffs Association, the Institutions Association, the Management Employees Group, the Law Enforcement Management Association, confidential and underrepresented employees, appointed department heads and elected department heads.

The Institutions Association, which primarily represents workers in the San Benito County Jail and Juvenile Hall, received a contract change regarding uniforms where the county has agreed to provide one outer jacket and hat for new Juvenile Institution employees.

Cost of living adjustments for the bargaining groups ran parallel with the SEIU agreement.

While the Deputy Sheriffs Association and Law Enforcement Management Association received cost of living adjustments and signing bonuses, they didn’t receive paid holiday dates like SEIU and the Management Employees Group.

Board Chairman Jaime De La Cruz said he used vacation days and sick time at his day job as a controller for a private company to take care of work as a county supervisor.

“Sometimes I don’t get paid for that day,” De La Cruz said. “It’s a dollar-for-dollar commitment. I get less pay by doing less work.”

The county supervisor’s salary of $48,193.94 is less than 25 percent of the salary of a superior court judge, which county staff recommends is used as a baseline to determine supervisors’ pay. According to the staff report presented at the meeting, similar counties have board member salaries that range from 25 to 60 percent of a superior court judge salary.

The current salary for superior court judges in California is $200,042.

Supervisor Mark Medina, the newest member of the board at 10 months in, said he has used vacation time at his day job to handle county business.

Medina said, according to his own estimation, he puts in anywhere from 37 to 42 hours a week.

The San Benito County Supervisor position is meant to be part-time. Compare that to the full-time supervisor positions in Monterey County and Santa Cruz County, which have average annual salaries of around $134,000 and $120,000 respectively, according to Transparent California.

“I didn’t realize how many hours it was, a lot more than I expected,” Medina said. “But that’s what life is. I think we also need to look at the salary compensation because this board isn’t going to be around forever. I want my replacement to have the same passion, momentum and ideas I do. We need to attract good people.”

He went on to say the younger generation couldn’t afford to run a campaign and live on the supervisorial wages without having a full-time or part-time job.

The board considered three raises: 35 percent to $70,015, 40 percent to $80,017 and 45 percent to $90,019.

Medina asked for feedback from the public.

“Please feel free to call me anytime you want,” Medina said. “Email me and give me feedback and advice. In return I’ll give 110 percent.”

Rivas said he couldn’t support a raise without more information.

“I applaud our chairman for raising this issue and putting it on the agenda, but at this time I need to see more information,” Rivas said. “I’d like to hear from local constituents on how they feel on this issue.”

Rivas works two jobs outside of his supervisorial duties for San Benito County: one as an adjunct professor teaching nights at Gavilan College and the other in a supportive role at San Benito High School.

“It’s not easy, it’s been very difficult at times,” Rivas said. “But I’ve stuck with being a supervisor because I love this county and I have a burning desire to give back to my community. Maybe 20 to 30 years ago when the county was smaller the job might have been less time consuming. But times have changed and demands have grown for this position in my opinion.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho found a neutral tone.

“I’m not ruling out one of these options or a different option Mr. Chairman, but I know this is a full-time job and I also know that we have to live within the means and bring everybody together,” Botelho said.

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