It's not often that a speaker invokes a British comedy during public comment at the Contra Costa County supervisors meeting, but Tuesday's session was different from most.
Deputy district attorney John Cope borrowed from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" to describe a scene in which an irrepressible black knight loses both arms and legs in a sword fight but battles on defiantly as he's whittled to a bloody stump with an attitude.
"The District Attorney's Office is a bloody stump," Cope said.
Imagery rarely rises to this level during a labor impasse, but it fairly painted the view of the Deputy District Attorneys Association, which has seen salaries squeezed and ranks thinned by 30 percent in the last six years.
The prosecutors and the county have been locked in their latest contract battle for more than a year, during which 16 bargaining sessions netted a tentative agreement (3 percent salary cut) in March, only to see it fail to get the necessary two-thirds rank-and-file support.
Tuesday's meeting was the end of the give-and-take. It was just take. With no settlement in sight, the supervisors imposed the county's "last, best, final" contract offer, calling for a 5.24 percent salary cut and full employee contribution toward retirement benefits.
Deputy DAs probably didn't see much about it that qualified it as "best."
Every recent county labor negotiation has felt like a public bloodletting. Tax revenues are
So in some ways this was just another chapter from the same book. But that didn't lessen what prosecutors perceived as another slap in the face. Several of them took turns at the speakers' podium, armed with facts:
Jason Peck said one reason for leaving his previous job in a smaller community 10 years ago to come to Contra Costa was the county's stable of experienced prosecutors, but "over the past couple of years that's changed."
"Some of them left to go to larger counties. A lot of them went to counties similar to ours -- Napa, Solano, Santa Cruz, San Mateo. Why did they leave? Salary and workload issues."
District Attorney Mark Peterson noted that 10 percent of Santa Clara County's 180 prosecutors formerly worked in his office. "They go there," he said, "because they're compensated better."
The supervisors didn't dispute the claims. John Gioia acknowledged that the deputy DAs were underpaid compared with peers. Mostly, the supes lavished praise on the prosecutors.
But that didn't change the county's ledger sheet. Hence, a 4-1 vote (Candace Andersen opposed). The one glimmer of optimism is that a month remains before the contract is official, meaning there's more time for negotiation.
"I am not in favor of imposing," said Supervisor Federal Glover, "but I'm in favor of getting people to the table where we can get this resolved. There needs to be a stick to say let's get this done."
It's not much, but it's a better deal than the black knight got.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org