The fallout from COVID-19 has once again dominated 2021, and as unbelievable as it may be to fathom, it appears that the impact of this pandemic will continue into 2022. Even as many began to feel some hope coupled with cautious optimism that this past summer would finally see the pandemic in their proverbial rearview mirror, reports of new mutations of the COVID-19 virus were rumored to be even stronger than the original.
Then, the delta variant surfaced in the United States. First identified in India in December 2020, the delta variant swept rapidly through that country and Britain before hitting the U.S. in mid-June 2021, where it quickly surged. It became the predominant SARS CoV-2 variant, accounting for more than 99% of COVID-19 cases and leading to an overwhelming increase in hospitalizations in some states. California was not among those states.
Throughout July 2021, the Coalition of County Unions (CCU), including PPOA and 13 other member organizations, was continuing “fringe benefits” negotiations with the County as the previous 2018–2021 memorandum of understanding (MOU) had expired on June 30. Then, to every County employee and their respective unions came a blindsided August blow.
On August 4, Supervisor Solis, chair of the Board of Supervisors, announced via Twitter that she had signed an executive order to establish a mandatory vaccination policy, effective immediately, which would require all County employees to provide proof of full vaccination by October 1 and that the chief executive officer would engage with the County’s labor partners regarding the effects (impact) of the vaccination policy. Keep in mind that the County provided no advance notice to CCU or any of the representatives and members of CCU that it intended to either develop or implement a mandatory vaccination program.
Shy of a holiday miracle, the County workforce and its unions will more than likely begin 2022 continuing to battle the pandemic fallout and its apparent never-ending gift of uncertainty.
Supervisor Solis’ executive order had no force and effect unless ratified by the Board of Supervisors, which occurred on August 10. The CCU immediately requested impact negotiations with the County, and the first negotiations meeting occurred on August 25.
So, the focus of trying to reach a tentative agreement on the fringe benefits was seriously disrupted by the County’s mandate that all County employees would be fully vaccinated by October 1. Nonetheless, PPOA and the CCU did reach a tentative fringe benefits contract agreement with the County on Wednesday, September 1. The tentative agreement, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, October 19, will expire on March 31, 2022.
Meanwhile, PPOA and the CCU continued impact negotiations with the County regarding the Board of Supervisors’ mandatory vaccination policy on August 25–26 and September 8, 10, 14, 21 and 29. The CCU repeatedly informed the County in negotiations that the County’s proposed suspension/termination policy would result in the serious disruption of the County’s provision of essential services, with overwhelming effects on public health and safety.
The CCU repeatedly advised the County at each and every negotiations meeting that the deadline of October 1 demanded by the County’s proposal had seriously deprived the County of any understanding of how many employees will be terminated for non-compliance with the County’s proposal, and therefore, with any understanding of the extent to which the County’s essential services will be disrupted.
The County continued to draw its “line in the sand” and did not negotiate workable alternatives with the CCU to their suspension/discharge proposal. Additionally, through the course of negotiations, the County repeatedly engaged in direct dealing with the membership of the members of the CCU, and on many occasions, communicated directly with the membership about a variety of the aspects of their proposed vaccination policy.
With absolutely no indicated desire from the County to continue to negotiate toward an agreement on the impacts of its proposed vaccination mandate policy, the CCU declared an impasse after its September 29 negotiations meeting with the County. On Thursday, September 30, the CCU submitted its notice of impasse — meaning a deadlock in negotiations between a certified employee organization (CCU) and the County over any matters required to be negotiated — to the Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission (ERCOM) and requested the appointment of a mediator.
The purpose of the mediator is to have an impartial third person or persons function as intermediaries to assist the CCU and the County in reaching a voluntary resolution to the submitted impasse. To date, mediation has yet to begin, and if there is no progress with a mediator, the next step in the negotiation process is fact-finding, which means to identify the major issues in the proposed mandatory vaccination policy, conduct a thorough review of the positions of the parties, resolve factual differences by one or more impartial fact-finders and the eventual making of recommendations for settlement when directed by ERCOM.
To believe that “mediation” and “fact-finding” will conclude by the end of 2021 is not realistic. Shy of a holiday miracle, the County workforce and its unions will more than likely begin 2022 continuing to battle the pandemic fallout and its apparent never-ending gift of uncertainty. Please know, PPOA will not waver on protecting the rights and welfare of all our members, who have given so much to keep Los Angeles County safe.
I wish each of our active and retired PPOA members and their families a blessed holiday season that is filled with gratitude, good health and happiness.