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Union clashes with Placer County over plan for more furlough days

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County supervisors OK’d five more furlough days for unionized workers Tuesday, despite a plea for further discussions from a Local 39 business representative. The county is attempting to whittle down a projected $23.6 million budget deficit next fiscal year starting in July. The five furlough days would be mandatory for Placer Public Employees Organization’s 1,860 members and save the county $2.8 million in wages. Chuck Theil, a Local 39 business representative, told the board that the bargaining unit wants the county to delay a decision on furloughs and go to mediation on issues surrounding cost cuts that could have an impact on the rank and file. But four of the five county supervisors stood with County Executive Officer Tom Miller in moving forward with the furloughs starting July 2. Most county offices will also be closed down for mandatory furloughs on Aug. 2, Sept. 3, Oct. 8 and Nov. 12. Roseville-area Supervisor Rocky Rockholm and Theil engaged in a short, verbal sparring match before the vote, with Rockholm suggesting that the union’s idea of a voluntary separation program for employees was a “golden handshake” that would have a long-term impact on the county’s retirement benefit payments. Theil said Rockholm’s portrayal of the program – which the union says would avert the need for layoffs and furlough days – was a mischaracterization of Local 39’s intentions. The program, he had said earlier, encourages employees to vacate positions that they can afford to leave instead of laying off employees that can least afford to lose a job. The long-term burden of layoffs comes because employees are eligible for up to 18 months of unemployment payments and subsidized COBRA medical benefits, he said. The lone supervisor voting against the furlough recommendation, District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said that she wanted the decision to be deferred until more discussions could take place with the union. But Supervisor Robert Weygandt, who represents the Lincoln area, said options are limited and the county doesn’t have the luxury of waiting to patch together a series of budget fixes. The county’s management team has already agreed to the five days off in the new fiscal year, no wage increase in 2010-11 and paying 20 percent of health-insurance costs. That would save another $750,000, according to the county. The Local 39 contract with the county runs through this June. Miller said that since the union and the county were unable to come to agreement on any future furlough proposal, the county’s final offer became subject to impasse procedures. Theil said that the union has been seeking mediation – something the county is not willing to proceed to.