News Details

Supervisors OK Contract with O.C. Deputies

By Dan Weikel
Los Angeles Times

October 24, 2007

After more than a year of contentious labor talks, the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a new contract with sheriff's deputies that will increase pay more than 12% over three years and reform the medical benefits program for retirees.

"It's taken us about a year to do it. There's been a number of ups and downs," said Supervisor Bill Campbell. "This is not just about putting a few more percentage points of pay into a deputy's pocket. We've agreed to reduce the unfunded liability in medical benefits -- a big breakthrough -- and getting more disclosure for the deputies' medical trust."

The contract, which affects about 1,800 sworn officers, calls for a retroactive salary increase of 4.75% for last year, a 4.6% raise effective this month, and a 3% hike in October 2008. Deputies now make between $54,101 and $77,709 a year, plus medical and pension benefits.

The county and the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs agreed to restructure the medical benefits program for retirees, which will reduce the unfunded liability of the program by $140 million.

The reduction will be achieved in part by cutting the deputies' cost-of-living increase from 5% a year to 3% starting in January 2008, reducing by 50% a retiree's benefits when he or she becomes eligible for Medicare, and increasing by10% the premiums paid by retirees.

In addition, the agreement calls for an annual audit of the medical trust fund controlled by the deputy sheriff's association. The fund is used to pay for the membership's health care benefits.

Supervisors have long sought more financial disclosure about the fund's costs and reserves because the county makes significant contributions to it every year.

The issue was a sticking point for deputies until both sides agreed to an auditor approved by the county and the union.

"The raise was fair and responsible," said Chris Norby, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. "We did get more accountability for the medical trust fund, something I have been trying to do since I got on the board."

Union representatives could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Deputies have already approved the contract.

The year-long talks were marked by a work slowdown and a dispute between the deputies' association and Supervisor John Moorlach, who has been critical of public employee unions.

In late December, the association circulated a letter requesting that Moorlach not be allowed to represent the county at functions honoring law enforcement, such as academy graduations, swearing-in ceremonies, and funerals for slain deputies.

Union officials accused Moorlach of showing "a lack of respect and regard" for law enforcement personnel in remarks stating that peace officers should not be treated any differently than other county employees.

Moorlach defended himself saying that he respects law enforcement and that he only wanted "to make sure the taxpayers are protected."

Earlier this month, a work slowdown by deputies caused delays in courtrooms throughout the county as many defendants appeared almost 90 minutes late for hearings.

Union officials said they were following official policies and procedures, such as searching every prisoner getting on and off vehicles transporting them to court. But law enforcement experts say that doing everything by the book is a common police union tactic during labor talks.

"I'm glad we've finally got some resolution to this," said Moorlach, whose election to the board was opposed by the deputies' association. "The change in medical benefits is a positive. The increased disclosure for the medical trust fund is a positive."