Los Angeles County supervisors approved a new contract for sheriff's deputies, firefighters and several other employee groups Tuesday, giving them a 10% pay bump over three years.
The contracts, adopted on a 5-0 vote without discussion by board members, mirror deals OKd in September for lifeguards, public defenders and supervisors in the sheriff's and probation departments.
The county has reached a similar tentative agreement with the county’s largest employee union, Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents more than 57,000 employees.
SEIU officials called the pay deal a "breakthrough contract" that "raises up all of L.A. County."
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, or ALADS, 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, SEIU members are voting on a proposed contract that 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 bumps 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, 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.
"You have a choice between: Do you continue to serve your vulnerable population or do you help your child make it through college?" she said. "We were seeing our brain trust walk away."
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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 the board will vote on Tuesday is about $180 million over the next three years. If approved, 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 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."
Last year, an outgoing majority on the Board of Supervisors adopted new fiscal policies requiring a four-fifths super-majority vote to increase salaries.
The move was widely seen as an attempt to moderate spending by a new, union-backed board majority ushered in by the 2014 elections.
The requirement wasn't a factor in the first round of labor contracts, which were approved unanimously this year. And it doesn't appear to be an impediment to the agreements on the agenda Tuesday. Representatives of the two Republicans on the board, Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe, said their bosses were prepared to support those pending deals, as well as the tentative agreements with SEIU.