Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, a Democrat representing District IV, addressed the Contra Costa Democratic Club last week, and it didn’t go well. Even though Democrats own every seat that counts in Contra Costa, Sacramento, and Washington D.C., there is trouble in paradise.
Public employee unions, fresh off their triumph after winning favorable contract terms with BART, are unhappy with Mitchoff. Labor leaders believe she has not supported their bargaining position strongly enough during negotiations on contracts that expired at the end of last June.
In an attempt to clear the air, Mitchoff addressed the Contra Costa Democratic Club last Thursday night. As anticipated representatives from Local 1 and SIEU 1021 lambasted the Supervisor from District IV that includes Concord, Pleasant Hill, Pacheco, Clayton, and a sliver of Walnut Creek. At one point things got so contentious that an official from the club politely intervened asking union members to not to hijack the proceedings.
County Workers want payback
County workers, taking into account their perceived sacrifices for the past few years, now are demanding something in return. They believe by taking furloughs, pay cuts, higher pension contributions and increased medical expenses, entitles them to a much improved contract. With Contra Costa expecting to receive more revenue from property taxes and the State, these interests want what they believe to be their “fair share.”
Karen Mitchoff has extensive experience with the County. She has worked as a fiscal and administrative analyst for the Employment and Human Services Department. As such, she is a key figure in the labor negotiations. In her capacity as Supervisor and member of the Retirement Board, she must balance the compensation given personnel, laying off workers, while also taking into account other priorities of the County budget. Not an easy task.
Presently, labor negotiations are not going well. Unions are questioning a contract recently agreed to with the County Sheriffs that gave them 3% pay raises each year through 2015. Union negotiators are asking why other unions are only being offered only 2% increases during this period. Mitchoff countered this “me to” argument by explaining the law enforcement employees made significant concessions in other areas thus their pay raise was affordable.
There is also real discontent from labor leaders who argue increases in health and pension expenses affect workers who are on the bottom of the pay scale. They hold that clerks and janitors are taking a much bigger hit than managers, sheriffs, and health care professionals at the County Hospital. Union leaders want more consideration given to County employees who are claimed to live at or near poverty levels.
Unions are also concerned that retired County employees are being asked to pay more money for their medical coverage. While expressing regret for the need to do this, Mitchoff said this extra expense is being partially off-set by a 3% cost of living raise in their annual compensation. Adding to the labor discord is the displeasure of the employees of Confire, who have been asked not only to make economic sacrifices, but to also alter work schedules from the 24 hr shifts to which they are accustomed. In short, no one is happy.
Karen Mitchoff still has strong hand
Despite the venom and dissatisfaction public employee unions are hurling in Karen Mitchoff’s direction, they are not in a strong position to coerce her to be more supportive to their cause. Unlike her predecessors Mark DeSaulnier and Susan Bonilla who held the District seat, Mitchoff apparently does not intend to run for the State Assembly. It is also understood that Mitchoff likely does not require the support of civil service unions to retain her post in 2014. As a strong backer of project labor agreements for government work, she still has construction workers unions firmly behind her re-election campaign.
Also to be considered is that there are probably not any suitable progressive candidates to provide meaningful opposition in future campaigns seasons. Democratic office holders on the Concord City Council Laura Hoffmeister, Edi Birsan, and Tim Grayson, who has newly registered Blue, have not shown any interest in running for her seat. This leaves Mike McGill from Pleasant Hill, who lost to Mitchoff in the last election, as the most likely opposition. Not to be forgotten would be the high expense of running for the supervisor post which could be as high as $150,000 as extensive direct mail and media buys are required.
Lastly, a bruising primary and a likely general election battle (if neither candidate garners 50% pf the vote) would prove to be divisive to the local Democratic Party as sides would need to be taken in such a struggle. This type of race would seem to be out of character with the George Miller Machine apparatus not to mention Mitchoff’s close connection with the powers that be from when she was chief of staff for Sunne McPeak and Mark DeSaulnier in the 1990′s.
At the end of the day, it seems the public service unions and their wayward daughter must find a way to patch up their differences and work together for the common good. Unlike the recent BART strike where there was intense pressure by the public to settle, no such advantages are available for county workers threatening to walk off their jobs. Most folks simply do not care as their lives aren’t greatly impacted. This being the case, labor unions will likely have to take Mitchoff’s word that she wants to give them a fair contract within the economic confines available to the County.
While revenue is expected to rise, so are other County obligations. Karen Mitchoff complained that much of the funding that comes from the State of California is for specific purposes, thus there is little flexibility for moving money around to meet different needs. “You can’t switch grants for medical uses to keep a library open,” she explained. Mitchoff sees herself in a difficult position trying please different factions but lacking the resources to do so.
On a positive note, the Supervisor Mitchoff proudly stated that due to the sacrifices made by workers along with the austerity program of the County, the threat of bankruptcy that loomed several years ago has been abated. This was of little consolation to the attendees of her appearance before the party faithful. One could not help but conclude that the “Shoot the piano player” attitude was ever-present. Welcome to the world of Karen Mitchoff.