Last week the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and the San Bernardino County Safety Employees’ Benefit Association (SEBA), the union representing the county’s sworn law enforcement officers, received the neutral mediator’s report regarding a labor dispute over salary and benefits for the county’s sworn personnel. The labor dispute has been going on since last year, and SEBA declared impasse in December 2015, making a way for the sides to use the services of a mediator.
All indications are that the Board of Supervisors is not in any hurry to accept fully the mediator’s recommendations. Since the board’s closed session on Tuesday where the dispute appears on the agenda, SEBA president, Laren Leichliter, sent out an email entitled “Lip Services or Commitment to Public Safety?” The title alone suggests there is still distance between what the mediator recommended and the county is willing to fork out.
Sheriff’s deputies, along with a number of other classifications within county service, contend that they are underpaid in comparison to those holding similar positions in nearby counties. In the last six years under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer, and with the backing of the Board of Supervisors, San Bernardino County has become a training ground where inexperienced candidates are hired over experienced candidates, receive their training at San Bernardino County expense, and then move on to greener pastures in other counties.
Several board members have been particularly supportive of this approach to county employment. First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood and Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford have long opposed providing county employees with competitive salaries. Lovingood, in particular, who owns a temporary employment agency, has often advocated for the use of temporary, minimum wage employees, lamenting that county employees are lazy and overpaid.
The mediator recommended 3 percent raises on July 1, 2016, July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018 along with other adjustments. The report can be found on SEBA’s website.
Although the county’s response has not been released, Lolita Harper, Director of Public Relations for SEBA, stated in an email to byteclay.com, “The report very clearly shows two things: deputies are deserving of a raise and the County has the absolute financial ability to make it happen.
“The report also represents what the negotiation process is about: compromise. Compromise is not a word we would use to describe the County’s negotiation philosophy. However, we are looking to the Board of Supervisors to be the true leaders of this county and make the right decision that keeps public safety as a top priority,” Harper concluded. The comment suggests the county doesn’t like the mediator’s compromise.
In Leichliter’s email, he reminded readers of what county leaders claimed after the Dec. 2, 2015, massacre in San Bernardino. “When the terrorists hit us on December 2nd, the Board of Supervisors was quick to praise the First Responders,” he wrote.
“They sent newsletters, held press conferences, and as recent as last week held an award ceremony honoring deputies’ actions on that horrific day. We appreciate their support but are waiting to see if their actions match their words,” Leichliter continued.
Leichliter went on to remind readers of the sacrafices his union’s member made when asked. “When the County was broke we helped by forgoing raises and giving up $28 million in additional concessions, which the County said they would reinstate. After four years, they have not kept their promise.
“Now the County is sitting on a $450 million surplus, and just spent an additional $5 million to get public input on the multi-million-dollar project titled the ’county-wide vision,’” said Leichliter. “Will the Supervisors do the right thing and agree to the mediators report?”
With Lovingood involved in a hotly contested election, it remains to be seen if he will soften his stance toward raises for the sheriff’s deputies or continue to be one of the most outspoken in support of Devereaux’s hard-ball approach toward labor organizations. First District opponents, Paul Russ, Bill Holland, Angela Valles, and Rick Roelle, are all strong supporters of county law enforcement and none have expressed the vitriol towards county employees that Lovingood has expressed.