Arbitration loss will cost Alpine County |

Arbitration loss will cost Alpine County

by Kurt Hildebrand

An arbitrator’s ruling will cost Alpine County at least $150,000 in longevity pay it failed to pay 20 employees.

The Alpine County Auditor’s office is still computing how much the Nov. 29 ruling by California arbitrator Christopher Burdick will cost. Assistant to the Board of Supervisors Judy Molnar said it will take until mid-January before the costs are fully known.

At issue is the memorandum of understanding between the county and two unions, the Alpine County Employees Association Miscellaneous Bargaining Unit and the Alpine County Deputy Sheriffs Association Law Enforcement Unit.

The agreement, which became effective July 15, 2003, tried to reform the way Alpine County compensated its employees for longevity.

According to Burdick’s ruling, no one was happy with the old way, in which employees who were regularly promoted would end up not receiving longevity pay, because their accumulated time was tied to their time at a particular pay range, not to their total time.

Negotiators tried to find a way to tie longevity pay to actual time in service, so that an employee who worked 10 years would receive a pay increase, no matter how many times they’d been promoted.

However, county negotiators told the unions the longevity rules could not be applied retroactively.

Molnar said the county’s general fund budget is $7 million.

County officials were concerned that making the longevity pay retroactive would substantially increase workers’ pay and adversely affect the budget.

Burdick said county negotiators did not include their desire that the pay raises not be retroactive in the actual agreement.

After being ratified by both the Board of Supervisors and the employees, the county auditor implemented the 2003 agreement.

When implemented, employees who reached their fifth anniversary with the county during the agreement were given a 5 percent pay raise. However, those who hit their 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th anniversaries were not. Shorter term employees were being rewarded and longer term employees, for whom longevity pay is intended to encourage continued service, were not, Burdick pointed out.

“To the detached, disinterested eye, the manner in which the county has implemented the new longevity plans seems irrational, inconsistent, in-equitable and unfair,” Burdick said.

Molnar said the county could appeal the decision to Alpine County Superior Court. That decision would be up to the Board of Supervisors.

The memorandum of understanding has expired and will be renegotiated, Molnar said. But it remains in effect until a new memorandum is ratified.