New Castle News

January 1, 2014

Jail union settlement may end talk of privatization

Mary Grzebieniak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County jail employees have agreed to a wage freeze and other cuts that may save the facility from privatization.

County commissioners approved a three-year contract with Construction and General Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania Local 964, which includes a wage freeze this year. In 2015 and 2016, employees will get $500 bonuses, but the base pay rate will not change.

The employees also agreed to give back four of 15 paid holidays, and to accept a new wage scale for new hires that mandates part- and full-timers start at $13 per hour instead of the current $15.71. The new employees will be eligible for $1 annual hourly increases that would cap at $18.

The employees also will pay 5 percent of their health insurance premium. They pay nothing now. County Administrator Jim Gagliano said the insurance is purchased through the union, and the county has no bargaining power over it.

All three commissioners said at their meeting yesterday that the concessions by the jail employees may save the jail from privatization. The county prison board has been talking with Community Education Centers Inc. of West Caldwell, N.J., since November to determine the cost of contracting services at the jail in order to save money. Commissioner Dan Vogler said the new contract “makes it less likely.” Commissioner Steve Craig added, “I concur entirely,” and Commissioner Robert DelSignore noted, “It looks better than it was.”

The jail represents about 80 of the county’s 400 employees and is the first of the county’s unions to approve a contract. The county is continuing to negotiate with two other units of the Laborers District Council as well as employees belonging to an AFSCME bargaining unit.

Gagliano said after the meeting that approximately 20 county employees who are not affiliated with unions received a 1 percent pay increase under the new budget. The county also switched these employees to Community Blue health insurance, a 5 percent savings for the county. Employees have no copay with that plan. However, they can opt to pay 10 percent of the premium and stay with the current Highmark PPO plan.