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Worker payouts ratified
Stockton approves severance deals for public waterworks

By Cheryl Miller
Record Staff Writer
Published Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Stockton will give a multimillion-dollar going-away present to 98 public waterworks employees slated to become private workers next month.

With no public discussion, Stockton's City Council on Tuesday night ratified deals with the Operating Engineers Local No. 3 and Stockton City Employees Association unions, giving their members "transfer payments" that total just under $2.1 million, or an average of $21,316 per employee.

On Aug. 1, Stockton's water, wastewater and stormwater system workers will become employees of OMI-Thames, the international partnership hired by the city to run its municipal waterworks for the next 20 years.

The payout is the result of months of sometimes bitter negotiations between the city and the unions, whose members will now move from the public to private sector.

Under terms of the negotiated severance package, Stockton will pay each employee a lump sum based on his or her years of service.

A worker with one to three years with the city will receive cash equivalent to two pay periods; employees with more than 33 years of service will receive cash equal to 11 pay periods.

The deal also pays workers for half of their accrued sick leave and all of their built-up vacation time. The 91 members of OE3 alone have racked up roughly $814,000 in sick leave, according to the city. 

Employees also will retain their rights to retiree medical benefits under the Public Employees Retirement System.

OE3 members ratified the payout agreement with the city by a 61-16 vote on June 23.

The unions are still negotiating with OMI-Thames over medical costs and pension issues in a new employment contract.

The Operating Engineers union already represents employees of the OMI-operated wastewater plant in Fairfield.

The union deal removes one of the final roadblocks in the way of city efforts to privatize its water utilities operations.

Lengthy labor negotiations, which started in 2001, contributed to delays that will push back by one month the date OMI-Thames is scheduled to take control of the utilities.

The city's only challenge now is a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters that accuses Stockton of failing to conduct a proper environmental review of OMI-Thames' operating plans for a new wastewater-treatment system. That lawsuit is set for a court hearing in
mid-August.