In the midst of protracted, contentious union contract negotiations, the Napa County Board of Supervisors approved a legally required 1.83-percent pay raise for themselves on Tuesday, which is the second increase they’ve received in the last year.
The supervisors tie their pay to California superior court judges’ salaries, which increased by 1.83 percent last month. For each supervisor, the pay increase amounts to about $1,500 annually, officials said.
That raises their annual salary from $85,370 to $86,930, which is 47.09 percent of superior court judges’ pay. Supervisor Mark Luce said that has been the board’s policy since the 1990s, and is a way to keep the board from deciding whether to raise its members’ pay.
Several other Bay Area counties do the same. Napa’s ranks below Marin County, which paid each of its supervisors $97,000 in base pay last year, Solano County, which pays $94,000, and Sonoma County, which pays $134,000, records show.
“We’re on the low end of the spectrum,” Luce said. “It’s kept us at pace with other counties. I don’t think about it. I’m as surprised as anybody to learn I got a pay raise.”
Last December, the judges’ salaries went up 1.4 percent, and the supervisors had to approve an identical bump in pay that amounted to about $1,000 in extra salary for each supervisor, retroactive to July 2013. That was their first pay raise since 2007.
The county received notification of the judges’ pay raise, set by the mostly state-funded trial courts system, on July 21. The pay raise comes as the county has been locked in negotiations with a union local representing about 1,000 county employees for much of this year.
The union, the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, has escalated the dispute over pay and a county request that employees contribute more to health care costs. Union members held public rallies outside the downtown library last week, and outside the Health and Human Services Agency campus on Old Sonoma Road Wednesday.
Sabrina Bucklin, president of the Napa County chapter of SEIU Local 1021, said the pay raises for the supervisors were “disappointing” and reflected a disconnect between elected officials and staff members.
“Are they practicing what they’re trying to implement on our side?” Bucklin asked. “Is it fair? They make a fairly decent amount a month. Income inequality is a huge, huge deal.”
The union has been trying to advance the argument that increasing employees’ contributions toward health care premiums unduly affects the lowest-paid workers most because the costs are based on flat dollar amounts, not percentages of earnings, Bucklin said.
The county has countered that it’s been generous in shouldering all of single employees’ health care costs, and 87.5 percent of employees with spouses and families, when comparative counties in California have employee contributions that exceed 20 percent of the costs.
As for the county’s legal requirement to implement the pay increases, Bucklin questioned the board’s decision to tie its members’ pay to the judges’ salaries in the first place.
“Why aren’t they tied to everything that we are tied to?” Bucklin said. “That is curious. You should lead by example.”
Supervisor Bill Dodd balked at the suggestion that the supervisors’ pay raise would play a factor in the contract negotiations, calling it an “apples and oranges” comparison.
Dodd said the county has an offer to the union to gives the employees a raise higher than the 1.8 percent increase the board approved Tuesday. The county has offered an up to 3-percent increase in employee wages annually until 2017.
Under the county proposal, the percent increase would be capped at 3 percent, but would vary depending on annual changes in the consumer price index, a federally generated statistical measure that gauges costs of living in given geographic areas throughout the U.S.
In the last contract, which expired July 1, employees were given 1.5 percent cost of living increase throughout its three-year term, which started in 2011.
“I’m not concerned about it,” Luce said. “We’re certainly not outpacing our employees in terms of pay increases.”
The county and the union will be back at the negotiating table in the first week of September, and both sides say they are working toward a resolution. They’ve been working in earnest on a new contract since February. Employees continue to work under the terms of that contract.
Dodd, who is campaigning for a seat in the California Assembly, saw some political blowback from the last pay increase in July, when a labor-backed interest group paid for advertising before the June 3 primary criticizing the bump in pay. But he said he’s not concerned that the new salary increase would lead to a similar response.
“I don’t think that the public is going to be disappointed in two raises in six or seven years totaling 3.2 percent cumulative,” Dodd said.