By Bay City News
Labor leaders and workers at the Central Contra Costa Sanitation District warned Thursday that the district's policies are costing them qualified employees and could endanger public health.
About two dozen unionized district employees held a demonstration at CCCSD headquarters in Martinez this afternoon to outline what they describe as consequences of the district's proposed pension cuts.
The district is proposing that employees contribute about 6.5 percent of their salary on average to their pension, with contributions phased in by 1.25 percent annually over the next five years. The CCCSD board is also offering wage increase each year for the next six years to keep pace with the cost of living, district officials said.
But leaders of the Local 1 Union that represents many of the district's 150 employees say the pension cuts proposed by the district's board of directors have pushed more experienced staff members to taken an early retirement or to work elsewhere.
Public Employees Union Local 1 President David Rolley said about two dozen employees have left the district over the past year to avoid losing the pension plans they were promised at hiring, though he said some of those workers had already planned to retire.
Still, Rolley and other union members say the threat of pension cuts has left the sanitation district in the hands of a less experienced staff, resulting in unsafe working conditions.
"The employees here are fed up. They work for the public and they answer to the public. When the board consistently makes bad decisions that cost the public money and imperils the public's safety, the employees feel it is their duty to speak up," Rolley said.
Fewer experienced workers on the job burdens those who have been with the district for several years, said Chris Newkirk, who works on the district's administrative side as a senior buyer.
"You have to ensure that the less knowledgeable people are following policies and procedures," he said.
Michael Scahill, a spokesman for the sanitary district, said most of the employees who left the district over the past year were retirees and that there is no safety threat posed by their leaving.
"I have no idea how (union representatives) came to that conclusion," he said. "All of the safety measures are in place."
In fact, Scahill said, the sanitation district currently boasts one of the lowest records of sewage spills in the last year for its size, with about 40 spills last year across the 1,500-mile system.
Local 1 Union representatives also say the district has wasted roughly $500,000 in unclaimed construction-related permit fees and spent $5 million on a sludge loading system "that was not needed and does not work.
But Scahill countered that the district only needs to collect about $200,000 in unclaimed permit fees, and that the sludge loading system has not yet been used because it is meant for catastrophes.
He noted that the Local 1 union is the sole employee labor group that has rejected the district's recent 5-year contract proposals.
"They are compensated fairly," he said, adding that employees' health care costs are fully covered.
The district and the Local 1 union are currently in mediation, and other unionized workers are reviewing the proposed contract.