On Friday, the Orange County Register reported that the County of Orange had filed an assault complaint against the Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino. According to the Register report the complaint alleges that at a negotiations session on Wednesday, at OCEA offices, where the county presented its final contract offer, Berardino allegedly “verbally abused and physically threatened with violence” county negotiators.
In a letter to OCEA President Lezlee Neebe County CEO Mike Giancola states; “We have collected numerous written statements from the county negotiations team which corroborates this assertion.” OCEA’s Assistant General Manager Jennifer Muir explained to Voice of OC:
“Orange County supervisors have a history of bullying and intimidating people who tell them things they don’t want to hear. The grand jury in Orange County said county government leaders have created an atmosphere of fear. That’s what was going on the other day,” Muir said. “Nick was simply standing up for the workers in rejecting the heavy-handed tactics and intimidation by the county government.” “Did it get heated? Absolutely,” she said. “But there was no assault.”
A follow up story in the Register on Sunday states that; “Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson said Friday that multiple witnesses told him Berardino charged at [Lead Negotiator Bruce] Barsook and bumped into a sheriff’s lieutenant who was attending the negotiations on behalf of management”. Muir disputed the Nelson’s version of events.
“Nick never bumped anyone in the room,” Muir wrote in an email Saturday. When contacted by phone, she did not give additional details. Berardino was responding to “bullying and intimidating” by county government leaders when things “got heated” and he told them to leave, Muir said. The county representatives declined to leave, and Berardino went to “escort” Barsook from the room, she added. “When [Nick] told them we have members who can’t afford to put gas in their cars,” Muir says that Barsook smirked, and Berardino told him to leave. “Nick reacted in a way anybody would react,” she said.
Like the county, the union too had members on its side of the negotiation table, dozens of witnesses that corroborate their side of the story. Additionally, given his more than 30 years experience as a labor negotiator, Nick Berardino isn’t likely to commit violence on anyone; 20 years ago, perhaps.
But the County negotiators came to OCEA’s office, delivered a “final” contract which was basically telling the union to take more expensive healthcare or face cuts to everything, and they were smug about it—Barsook smirking and taunting the union members and Berardino in the process. It’s the same as if someone came into your home, relieved themselves on your kitchen table and told you your place stunk of urine.
The Santa Ana PD will find it difficult to sort out whether an assault actually happened given the likelihood of contradicting versions of the events their investigation will compile. This situation looks to me a lot like the theatrical disputes between hockey goons in the NHL who sometimes come to blows and sometimes don’t. Or boxers at the weigh in before a match.
In my opinion, the “chaos” at the negotiations between the county and OCEA is a case of heated theatrics, not assault and it was instigated by the county negotiator. Frankly, if Berardino is going to be accused to assaulting Barsook, he ought to just deck him in the mouth and leave no question an assault occurred. The alleged incident occurred in front of a sheriff’s Lieutenant; if an assault took place, the deputy would have made an arrest. It sure sounds like Barshook brought the Righeimer playbook with him.
But the real assault here is on the county’s workers by the Board of Supervisors in the form of their final offer after almost two years of negotiations. The county employees have sacrificed, bent over backwards and done everything possible to save taxpayers money while the Supervisors and the county’s executive and senior managers have misbehaved, mismanaged, and under performed to cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. Their offer is nothing more than retaliation for the OCEA’s standing up to them and pointing out their waste and abuse. The Board of Supervisors did the same thing after the Grand Jury issued a series of scathing reports about them. In an email to members last Thursday, Berardino wrote:
The County’s offer fails to acknowledge the sacrifices each of you have made during the past five years to continue to deliver the best possible services to residents of Orange County. Those sacrifices have included significant pension reforms, no general wage increases, reforms to retiree medical, and increased contributions to health care and retirement. The Board’s proposal ignores all of those sacrifices, which have saved the County more than a billion dollars, and instead wants more from you. And even more insulting, the County threatens to punish us more by eliminating PIP and workers comp supplement pay if we dare to reject the proposal.
From the Carlos Bustamante scandal—to multiple Grand Jury reports alleging a culture of corruption and intimidation—to a joint federal, state, and county corruption probe of Supervisors—to a $1 million wrongful termination suit filed by former Nelson aide Dave Zenger, the Board of Supervisors and the county’s executive and senior managers—not rank and file employees—are the ones who need to be reined in.