County board approves $145 million contract with deputies’ union

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Diane Sieker photo

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors signed off on a $145 million collective bargaining agreement with the union representing Riverside County sheriff’s deputies, though several board members expressed qualms about the salary hikes loaded into the five-year compact.

The agreement, approved on a 4-1 vote, was reached following numerous bargaining sessions between Department of Human Resources officials and representatives from the Riverside Sheriffs Association, on which the board unilaterally imposed terms and conditions in October 2017 following a year of failed negotiations.

At the time, several cities that contract with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement services were complaining of public safety expenses swallowing disproportionately large portions of their annual budgets. The board retained a professional services firm, Netherlands-based KPMG, to conduct an efficiency audit to find ways of streamlining operations and saving money. The results following the nearly $40 million study were mixed, by all accounts.

“This contract allows us to stay fair and reasonable. It allows us to treat people the way they ought to be treated,” RSA President Bill Young said. “We can do better at recruitment and retain the people we have.”

According to the memorandum of understanding, which takes effect at the end of the month, pay hikes for patrol deputies will total 20% over the next five years, while correctional deputies will see an aggregate increase of 13% in pay.

The RSA has roughly 2,500 members.

There will be additional upward adjustments for flight crews, as well as school resource officers assigned to security at grade school campuses, and so-called “step” increases will be applied for union members who ladder up into higher job classifications, with hikes typically topping out at 4% per step. Some specialty classes, including district attorney’s office investigators, who belong to RSA, could see compensation jump 12% under the agreement.

The base pay range for newly sworn deputies is between $30 and $40 per hour. When health care benefits, uniform and equipment allowances, along with other county-funded coverage are factored in, per-deputy costs rise substantially.

“It’s time to stand up and stop kicking the can down the road,” Ali Mazarei of Moreno Valley, who is planning a run for the state Assembly, said. “If you approve this deal, then the other unions will also want a sweet deal. I’ve got nothing against law enforcement, but making decisions like this is a mistake. I’m tired of being an ATM for the county and state.”

Mazarei pointed to the county’s $3.1 billion unfunded pension liability as a potential looming financial disaster, and he asserted pay hikes for the law enforcement union will make closing that gap impossible.

Board Chairman Kevin Jeffries sympathized, calling the pension deficit “extremely serious” and likely to “get worse.”

“But when we’re not paying people enough to stay or join, who’s going to respond to that 911 call?” Jeffries said. “The eye-opener for me was when HR did the survey of surrounding counties — and we were darn near the bottom in salaries for deputies.”

Supervisor Jeff Hewitt disliked the idea of adding to the county’s pension woes and cast the lone vote against the collective bargaining agreement, saying that while he understood the need to pay deputies to stay and not seek greener pastures after being trained in Riverside County, on principle it was still fiscally irresponsible.

“We’re going to have to make some changes … going forward,” he said.

Supervisor Chuck Washington said his primary concern was for the “morale” of the department, and with deputies in neighboring jurisdictions earning more, the only way to resolve the matter was through pay hikes.

“This deal was a long time coming,” he said. “We worked hard to get this deal, and it’s one we felt we could live with.”

The county has yet to finalize collective bargaining agreements with several other unions.

Don Kent, the county chief financial officer, told the board that “plenty of challenges” lay ahead in the second half of the current fiscal year, but “we should be OK.”

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