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Unions Announce Referendum To Overturn Board Of Supes' Raise

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Contra Costa County public employees unions have started to gather signatures for a referendum to overturn the county Board of Supervisors' recent decision to give themselves a 33 percent raise, union officials announced today.

With Public Employees Union, Local 1, the county's largest union, leading the charge, union leaders are set this afternoon to notify the county registrar of voters in Martinez of their intent to seek signatures for a referendum to invalidate the salary hike.

Union representatives will need to gather at least 24,000 signatures from registered county voters by January in order for the referendum to succeed, according to Public Employees Union, Local 1 assistant general manager Phil Hu.

If the referendum is successful, the board would have to revisit the pay raise ordinance and would have to seek voter approval in order to pass another salary increase.

The move comes three weeks after the supervisors voted 4-1 to raise their salaries from $97,483 to $129,227 next year amid vocal opposition from county employees unions and other community members.

Supervisor Candace Andersen cast the sole "no" vote on the salary hike, citing the meager raises given to county employee groups in recent years.

"For many years now, our members have been told during bargaining that times are tough, that our tax base isn't the same as other counties, that we're all in it together. Our members have dealt with layoffs, furloughs, takebacks, increased health premiums, increased retirement payments," Hu said.

"Now here comes the initial sign that economic times are starting to get a little better ... and the people that have consistently pled poverty during negotiations now basically run to the front of the line and say, 'Me first,'" Hu said.

He noted that the Board of Supervisors also voted to tie their salaries to those of the county's Superior Court judges, as is the practice in several other Bay Area counties. Under the ordinance passed by the supervisors, the board will receive a raise whenever the judges do.

"What happens then is, it is completely out of sight or out of mind, it no longer comes to public scrutiny," Hu said.

The four supervisors who voted for the raise have said that while raising their own salaries is always a controversial move, the increase is necessary after many years of delaying the issue and will prevent them from having to vote on their own raises in the future.

The board last voted to give themselves a 60 percent raise in 2007 in a move that also incited fierce opposition from county employees' unions.

Ken Westermann, president of the Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriffs Association, said he doesn't begrudge the board their raises, but questions the amount of the increase and the timing.

"We've tried over the last decade to bargain in good faith," Westermann said. "We've seen cut after cut and I've had to go to my members and say, 'They can't afford to give us what we know we deserve.'"

"For me, when the supervisors do this, I have to take a stand. It's a matter of principle," he said.

The supervisors' raise comes as the county continues to shed law enforcement officers and other personnel seeking higher pay in other counties.

More than 40 sheriff's deputies left the county this year for better pay at other agencies, according to Westermann.

(925) 228-1600

Contra Costa County Administrator David Twa (925) 335-1080 or county spokeswoman Betsy Burkhart (925) 313-1183

Contra Costa County DSA President Ken Westermann (925) 228-9710
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