L.A. County supervisors approve three-year, 10% pay increase for deputies, firefighters

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and members of several other employee groups will get a 10% pay increase over three years under contracts approved Tuesday by county supervisors.

The agreements mirror deals approved in September for lifeguards, public defender investigators and supervisors in the sheriff’s and probation departments.

————

FOR THE RECORD

7:21 a.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that Los Angeles County’s budget is $28 million. It is $28 billion.

————

A tentative agreement with the county’s largest employee union, Service Employees International Union, Local 721, which represents more than 57,000 employees, includes similar provisions.

But officials with the union representing sheriff’s deputies said they grudgingly agreed to it.

Jeff Steck, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said his union pushed unsuccessfully for an increase in hiring standards and a larger increase in pay. Both were needed to rebuild the department and attract qualified recruits after high-profile scandals involving abuses in the jails, he said.

“We’re coming out of a recession, and departments all across California are hiring,” he said. “We’re down at the bottom in pay and working conditions.”

The starting salary for a deputy trainee is about $60,000. Steck said senior deputies make about $84,300 a year, putting the department below most comparable agencies in California.

In addition to the 10% raise, the proposed contract that SEIU members are voting on would make Cesar Chavez Day an official holiday, provide up to an additional week of annual vacation every year and put some temporary workers on a path to full-time jobs.

Some categories of workers would get additional pay raises or bonuses, including nurse practitioners in county hospitals, night shift workers and registered nurses in county emergency rooms and intensive care units.

Ileana M. Meza, a nurse practitioner at County-USC Medical Center who was part of the SEIU bargaining team, said the increases will help stem a flight of health workers leaving for higher-paying jobs with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or in the private sector.

“We were seeing our brain trust walk away,” she said.

The agreement with SEIU also would speed up implementation of a higher minimum wage for county employees. The supervisors voted earlier this year to increase minimum pay to $15 an hour by 2020 for county employees. The agreement with SEIU would accelerate that to 2018.

The total estimated cost of the 10% raises approved Tuesday is about $180 million over the next three years. If adopted, the raises for SEIU employees would add $450 million. The county’s total annual budget is $28 billion.

Wages for most county workers were frozen for four years during the recession, ending in 2013.

County spokesman David Sommers said that across-the-board pay increases over the last 12 years had barely stayed ahead of inflation and that the county had shown “prudent practices in offering sustainable increases.”

Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Los Angeles-based economic consulting firm Beacon Economics, said that at some point the county will have to choose between giving pay raises or improving services or replacing aging infrastructure. On the other hand, the approved pay increases are relatively modest, he said, given the union-backed county board majority that took office after last year’s elections.

“If you’re a taxpayer, this is probably as good as you can hope for under the circumstances,” he said. “The numbers don’t scare me.”

Before departing, members of the previous board majority adopted new policies requiring a four-fifths super-majority vote to increase salaries.

The move was widely seen as an attempt to moderate spending by the incoming board majority.

The requirement wasn’t a factor in the first rounds of labor contracts, which were approved unanimously. Representatives of the two Republicans on the board, Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe, said their bosses were also prepared to support the tentative agreements with SEIU.

Twitter: @sewella

abby.sewell@latimes.com

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-county-union-contracts-20151102-story.html