MID directors deadlock on raises for union workers

jholland@modbee.comSeptember 4, 2012 

— The board of the Modesto Irrigation District deadlocked Tuesday on a proposed contract that would have provided raises — some of them substantial — for employees.

The vote was 2-2, meaning yet another delay in the four-year effort to reach an agreement.

Board members Nick Blom and Paul Warda voted for the contract. Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild voted against it. Larry Byrd withdrew from the discussion because his son is an MID employee.

The board discussed the matter in closed session after the vote, but no further action was taken. The next steps "are yet to be determined," MID spokeswoman Melissa Williams said. The employees continue to work under the terms of their last contract, which expired in late 2008.

Critics said the proposed raises are wrong at a time when other employers are cutting pay and positions. "With our economy the way it is, I don't think you can pass this through," said April Premo, who lives in Ceres and owns property within the irrigation district.

But MID retiree Troyce Weese said the raises are needed to bring the district closer to the norm for utilities. "It's been going on for a while now, and you've got to start paying these guys what they're worth," he said.

The proposed contract is with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245. It covers employees in power and water operations, customer service and several other areas.

The contract would provide a 3.9 percent raise immediately and inflation-based increases of up to 4 percent in 2013 and again in 2014.

In addition, 55 percent of the district's 400 or so employees would get raises of 3 percent to 34 percent based on salary comparisons with 14 utilities and public employers in Northern California. Those above the average would forgo some of the inflation-based raises until the average caught up with them.

Employees have not had inflation-based raises since 2007. They got merit-based increases until reaching the top of their salary ranges.

The contract would reduce pension benefits for future hires.

Board members comment

Van Groningen said the contract terms had been offered to the union at the board's instruction in closed session, but he did not want to give final approval in light of the tough economy. He said he might support raises when conditions improve.

Wild has been especially critical of the large raises intended to put the MID on a par with other agencies.

Warda, who also had questioned the raises, said he ended up voting for the contract because of the earlier board direction to the negotiator.

A representative of the union could not be reached for comment. It has filed charges of unfair labor practice against the district, based on the board's rejection of a previous tentative agreement.

The current proposal has been approved by two of the union's bargaining units — the 208-member utility service and maintenance unit and the 44-member professional and supervisory unit. The 107-member administrative, technical and clerical unit rejected the contract.

It came to the board Aug. 14, but no one seconded a motion to discuss it.

The board Tuesday also was scheduled to vote on applying the terms in the union contract to the 46 nonunion employees. No one made a motion to do so.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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