A state panel has ruled in favor of a labor union engaged in a long-running battle with Tulare County officials about unpaid back wages.
The Public Employment Relations Board, which hears disputes between government agencies and employees, ordered the county to pay $3.4 million to about 900 Tulare County government employees represented by Service Employees International Union.
Greg Gomez, president of the Tulare County chapter of SEIU Local 521, hailed the ruling as “a tremendous victory for workers and SEIU members in Tulare County.”
But the matter may not be settled yet because County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau said he would recommend to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors that they appeal the ruling to the state Court of Appeal.
Supervisors meet today and the agenda includes a closed session item about the decision issued late last month .
The dispute involves a two-year labor contract that expired in 2011. The contract, reached during the depths of the recession, included a wage freeze.
The union said that employees agreed to go without pay raises and promotions, but should have had them restored when the contract ended.
“During the recession, the county asked SEIU members to help out, and they did, saving the county millions of dollars on wages,” Gomez said in a statement.
But Rousseau said the pay raises were delayed for a year after the contract ended out of necessity.
“At the end of two years, we weren’t out of the woods yet” because the recession has not ended, he said. “We did everything we could to avoid layoffs.”
The dispute went to an administrative law judge, who agreed with the county’s action, Rousseau said.
But the union appealed that ruling to the Public Employment Relations Board, which ruled in favor of the union, and said the payment of back wages must include 7% annual interest.