I was a recent member of the negotiating team along with other county employees and SEIU staff. We were representing Units 1, 3, 6 and 7, which is about 3200 employees. This letter is a response to Board of Supervisors Chairman Phil Cox, who made comments (August 7, 2014-Edition of Valley Voice) regarding his assessment of the recent concluded negotiations between Tulare County HHSA and members of the negotiating team.
For months we kept asking the Tulare HHSA, what their counter offer was. We had asked for 8.74% over a three-year period. They stated they had the ability to give us a raise but no willingness, and they continued to offer 0%. For Chairman Cox to imply that they were always going to offer 3% brings up an awful lot of questions. If that were the case they could have saved the taxpayers of this county a whole lot of money (the county-hired attorney, Ms. Bennett, was paid over $250 an hour for countless hours over about four months).
We contacted Chairman Cox and other board members in an attempt to talk with them about the community of Tulare and the importance of putting community first. Chairman Cox as board chair made it clear that he and all other Board members would not talk with employees and/or families of employees. The door was closed. We had no recourse except the public speak at Tuesday morning Board meetings to address the BOS.
Chairman Cox stated in the 08/07/2014 edition of Valley Voice, “It was a well orchestrated plot to discredit the supervisors and I’m not a conspiracy theorist”. In response to his comment: I’m not a conspiracy theorist either, however we (members of the negotiating team – primarily Tulare County employees) did not discredit the Board of Supervisors. They discredit themselves by their own actions.
For Mr. Cox to imply that paying for uniforms for animal shelter workers, providing employees to pay for health care premium with a $1000 deductible and sick buy back was the economic offer that was on the table was a ridiculous notion. We were clearly discussing an equity adjustment for about 3000 Tulare County Employees who had not seen a raise since 2008. As for Worthley and Vander Poel, we had made it clear to Valley Voice reporters that it was our understanding that they had said no to the first raise. According to Mr. Cox, that wasn’t the case. Both Worthley and Vander Poel later took the raise they had initially refused.
Chairman Cox made statements about the negotiating team being ill-prepared, acting like children, and dissention between the union and rank-and-file. What does Mr. Cox have to back up those statements? Our lead negotiator, Jo Ann Salazar, was always well prepared. We did what a negotiating team is supposed to do, work hard to get some fair compensation for the thousands of citizens of Tulare county that have gone since 2008 without a pay increase.
Chairman Cox stated there was dissention between the union and the rank-and-file. We had standing room only at our last general membership meeting to address progress we had finally made during negotiations. I do not recall one hard word that I or any other member of the negotiating team had with each other. If anything there was a lot of mutual respect. As for SEIU staffers, the lead negotiator, Jo Ann Salazar, and staffers Mark Araiz and Courtney Hawkins, are some of the finest people one will ever meet. They have so much integrity. They are devoted to their family, friends and their community. Folks should not generalize about SEIU. Working for the union is like any other profession. You have good hardworking, dedicated, nose to the grind people and you may also find some mediocrity from time to time. Name a profession where that is not true. As for Mr. Cox’s comments that the negotiating team were acting like children, if trying to hold this Board and CAO Mr. Rousseau accountable for their ongoing excessive acts of executive compensation is acting like children, then I am guilty as charged, Mr. Cox.
Mr. Cox and other Board members had voted to give the County Administrative Officer, Jean Rousseau, a 10.6% raise in 2012 and since that time they too have received raises totaling almost 9%. How does the Board justify $250,000 life insurance policies for themselves, which equals 1/25th of the amount given to a majority of the rank-and-file? It seems that Chairman Cox and the other Board members are used to the status quo. They go on about county business with little or no accountability.
Chairman Cox and other Board members need reminders – they are not members of the Royal family. It is not King Phil, Prince Pete and Sir Jean Rousseau (the CAO). They are public servants and are in the position they are in to serve the people of Tulare County. Chairman Cox and other Board members should be apologizing, and stating they will not take another raise until they offer the rank-and-file the same raise. Or is it their desire to take Tulare County down the same path as Bell, California?
Fellow board member Pete Vander Poel stated when he was running for the Board seat, “the responsibility of government is to serve the people. The individuals we elect to government offices to represent us should be in it to represent interests of their constituents and not their own.” Did Board member Pete really mean this or was this just a campaign slogan?
Chairman Cox, the other Board members, and the CAO Jean Rousseau are willing to draw the line for a majority of county employees to such an extent that a majority of county employees have inferior health insurance, wages, etc. to adjacent County Kings County. On the other hand, Cox and the rest of the BOS and their anointed CAO in Tulare County are obsessed with making sure their own compensation package is far superior to the BOS in Kings County. What is wrong with this picture? If you can’t change, Tulare County deserves better.
We the People deserve better from our Board of Supervisors and we will keeping reminding them of what their roles and responsibilities are until they “get it” or they “get out.” The ball is in your court, King Cox.
Kermit Wullschleger – husband, father of three, Tulare County Employee since 1989, and member of The Catholic Church of Visalia