San Miguel Community Services District General Manager Rene Salas has proposed that the district should lay off one-third of its full-time employees. But in a district of San Miguel’s size, one third of its full-time workforce equates to one person, who also happens to be considered the primary rabble-rouser behind a newly formed union.
Administrative Office Supervisor Tanya Mueller has been out on leave since March 22. According to various sources who spoke with New Times—they asked to remain anonymous given ongoing problems within the district’s administration—Mueller is out on medical leave not because of an injury sustained at work, but rather due to stress over strife with the district’s general manager.
There’s no shortage of stress within the small district these days.
District employees petitioned to join with the San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association (SLOCEA) on Feb. 9. Employees were unanimously in favor of joining the union, which represents a number of agencies, including about 1,400 SLO County employees. On March 22, the San Miguel CSD Board of Directors approved the petition to unionize. However, every chance the small membership has had to collectively negotiate for pay and benefits may have already been undercut.
Salas and a majority of board members declared a state of fiscal emergency days before the union was officially recognized. For employees, the emergency means a wide stamp for the district to begin slashing pay and benefits, and SLOCEA has had virtually no opportunity to protest the cuts.
On April 12, the district’s Organization and Personnel Committee tentatively approved a new compensation plan that will roll back employee benefits, cut pay, and lay off Mueller if it’s implemented. Multiple people familiar with the district told New Times Mueller is considered to be the person responsible for approaching SLOCEA for representation, despite the fact that all employees were in favor of unionizing.
As of press time, the compensation plan was scheduled to go to the district’s Board of Directors for approval on April 26.
The problem: The employees’ new union hasn’t had a chance to weigh in.
“I find it distressing that the general manager would make a recommendation to the board on proposed negative impacts to employees without engaging in the meet and confer process,” said SLOCEA General Manager Kimm Daniels, “since SLOCEA is the recognized representative of the employees.”
Currently, SLOCEA doesn’t have a contract giving it the ability to negotiate for its new members. Salas told New Times he doesn’t know exactly how much the district could save through his proposed cuts—at least not until the board votes on a final package. Asked if SLOCEA was consulted, Salas responded that the district doesn’t yet have a contract with the group.
“We have to do [a Memorandum of Understanding], which will take a few iterations and back and forth like any type of [Memorandum of Understanding],” he said. “We haven’t started that process yet.”
Salas didn’t respond to additional questions about the district’s finances before press time.
Under the current proposal, Salas recommends laying off Mueller, who makes $52,000 per year, and assuming her job responsibilities, according to a staff report. He further suggested a five percent pay cut to himself and the district’s utility worker. Such a pay cut would reduce Salas’ salary from $85,000 per year to $80,750, and the utility worker’s from $29,120 per year to $27,664.
The district declared a fiscal emergency in order to backfill its reserves, hopefully to about 15 percent. According to district finances, its reserve is about 12.3 percent of its budget ($135,000 out of a $1.1 million budget). According to a New Times analysis, the district would save an additional $14,950 per year if it only implemented the benefit and wage reductions, which would push the reserve fund to about 13.6 percent.
However, some people in San Miguel have argued that the district doesn’t need to build up its reserves to the goal it’s set.
For comparison, SLO County keeps a contingency fund of non-earmarked funds that’s about four percent of its budget. (The county holds additional reserves of earmarked funds.)
Mike Sanders, who acts as the public relations liaison for the San Miguel Advisory Council, told New Times that some people in the community are concerned with the way the CSD is handling its financial situation and employees. Sanders said the advisory council is considering writing a letter to the CSD.
A grievance has also been filed against the CSD by its employees, according to several people familiar with the district. Though no one who spoke for this story would provide details of the grievance, they said it was filed and scheduled to go before the Board of Directors in a closed session hearing.
News Editor Colin Rigley can be reached at email@example.com.