Contra Costa Water District OPEB Talks Settle

Local 21’s Contra Costa Water District Chapter began a series of informal meetings to discuss the District’s desire for all employees to contribute to an OPEB (other post-employment benefits) trust.

 The District’s final proposal, which Local 39, the district’s largest bargaining unit, ratified, was to contribute 2.5% beginning this year, 3.5% next year, and 4.5% the following year to an OPEB trust to help fund the retiree medical plan, in exchange for a two year contract extension. After many meetings and much debate our membership rejected this proposal. The rejection was based on several factors, including that Local 21’s contract was scheduled to expire a year and a half after Local 39’s. Additionally, Local 39 has a “spousal survival” benefit which Local 21 does not have, and was negotiated prior to Local 21 forming a chapter. 

 Under the District’s proposal, all employees pay the same percentage of salary to the OPEB trust, but not all employees receive the spousal survival benefit. Although our members rejected the final proposal, a majority felt they wanted to help with the OPEB liability in some capacity but were not comfortable with the tentative agreement reached by Local 39. We made several attempts to negotiate with the District, but it was unwilling to agree to anything that differed from the tentative agreement reached with the other units.

 This month our membership voted to reconsider the offer, which includes a 2 year contract extension and continuation of the CPI COLA formula. It was a hotly contested vote, but the members voted to accept the District proposal. The extended contract will not expire until November 2015, and employees will receive a COLA wage increase between 2.5% and 5%, depending on the CPI, which will help cover the cost of the OPEB contribution.