Money may not buy true happiness, but Contra Costa County's five elected supervisors probably wouldn't turn down a hefty cash windfall right about now.

Despite the improving economy, the supervisors still face fiscal misery as they negotiate public employee union contracts that cover nearly three-quarters of the county's 9,332 employees.

What do workers want? Money.

Week after week, county employees line up behind the microphone during the board's public comment period and lay their financial hardships at the supervisors' feet.

Pay cuts coupled with no raises, higher pension contributions and premiums that are expanding faster than grandma's sourdough starter are pushing them to the breaking point, the workers say.

The supervisors' February vote to give County Administrator David Twa a 16 percent in annual wage and benefit hikes was the proverbial salt in the wound.

"What about us?" the workers ask week after week.

Yes, the testimony is strategic.

The unions hope the pressure will remind the electeds of labor's political influence and counter the public's lack of sympathy for people who have what many of them don't -- jobs, insurance and pensions.

Appropriate pay and benefits for public employees at all levels is a legitimate debate, but no one can deny that for the county's lowest-paid workers, the effect has been hard. Consider these actual paychecks:


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  • Licensed vocational nurse -- Base pay down 2.75 percent, from $58,083 a year to $56,798, or $107 a month. Pension contribution up 47 percent, from $218 a month to $320. Insurance premium up 94 percent, from $115 a month to $223. Combined hit: $317 a month.

  • Paraprofessional library assistant -- Base pay down 2.75 percent, from $45,276 a year to $44,028 a year, or $104 a month. Pension contribution up 69 percent, from $243 a month to $410. Insurance premium up 73 percent, from $187 a month to $325. Combined hit: $409 a month.

    That leaves the librarian with $2,484 a month take-home after taxes. For context, per RentJungle.com, the average apartment rent within 10 miles of Concord is $1,518 a month, almost two-thirds of his or her monthly income.

    The reality, though, is that supervisors don't have enough money to give everyone a raise unless they relax fiscal policies such as minimum reserve levels intended to keep the county on balanced budget ground.

    The county estimates that a 1 percent across-the-board raise would cost $6.5 million a year, but those same experts say the county will take in less than $5 million in new general purpose dollars next fiscal year.

    In addition, the supervisors are bracing for another blow.

    The Contra Costa County Employees Retirement Association recently lowered its projected investment return rate, which means the county and its workers will pay more starting July 1, 2014, to cover the gap.

    So, money may not buy happiness.

    But for supervisors, librarians, nurses and everyone weary of this unrelenting recession, even a superficial respite sounds good.

    women lead: March is National Women's History Month ¿-- the perfect time to recognize two East Bay leaders.

    Orinda City Councilwoman Amy Worth is this year's chairwoman of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which hands out billions of road and transit dollars.

    Clayton Mayor Julie Pierce is vice president of the Association of Bay Area Governments, and she's shepherding the regional blueprint for where to build houses, jobs and shops.

    GOT POLITICS? Read PoliticsWithLisaV.blogspot.com:

  • It's Sunshine Week, and California Forward is turning up the lights.

  • Contra Costa's grand jury issued a report that details whether the local agencies scrutinized in its 15 investigations took heed.

    AND FINALLY: The Contra Costa Elections Office, at 555 Escobar St. in Martinez, is now officially the Stephen L. Weir Elections Office, in honor of the retiring clerk-recorder, per a vote last week by the board of supervisors.

    Weir will retire at the end of March after serving nearly 25 years in the post.

    In classic Weir style, he immediately acknowledged his staff, who gathered for the ceremony in the board chamber.

    The best quote, though, came from Weir's spouse, John Hemm, after the retiring official told the audience that his partner had two new knees, two new hips and was about to get a new shoulder.

    "When I die, they will take my body to a pick-and-pull," Hemm joked.

    Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com, politicswithlisav.blogspot.com or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.