New Castle News

March 5, 2014

AFSCME, county to continue contract talks

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A courthouse labor union and Lawrence County government officials are returning to the bargaining table to iron out a contract.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2902 voted 33-9 Friday to reject a tentative contract both negotiating teams reportedly had agreed to when they left the table Feb. 25.

The proposal was a three-year contract with raises of 1 percent the first year, 1.5 percent the second and 2 percent the third.

The proposed agreement also had a change in health insurance, from the current Highmark PPO Blue to Community Blue, which does not include UPMC services.

The change would save the county 3.83 percent this year and employees would not contribute anything for the first year of the contract. However, if costs exceed 7 percent the second and third years, the employees would pay half the increases and the county would pay the other half.

The 60-member bargaining unit includes employees of the offices of treasurer, controller, maintenance, commissioners, voter registration, assessment, information technology, mental health and developmental services, children and youth services, veterans affairs and tax claim.

Controller employee Sarah Leslie, a member of AFSCME’s bargaining team, and Shaun Evans, AFSCME’s union steward, said raises and health care are matters of concern.

“People are afraid of the unknown,” Evans said, noting there is no cap on the health care plan costs, and in two years, the employees fear they would be worse off financially than they are today.

“We want at least to stay status quo,” he said.

“The main frustration of our members is the increases and being responsible for a higher cost,” while the wage increases proposed would just cover cost of living.

“We’d really take a hit if (the health care costs) spike,” Leslie added.

She pointed out AFSCME base pays have remained the same since 2008 and are five years behind, while county members of Construction and General Laborers Union Local 964 won a grievance to increase their base pays.

Evans pointed out new hirees in AFSCME are paid less for the same job title than new hires in similar positions in Local 964.

Leslie said county negotiators were adamant about not moving on the proposal they had offered.

County administrator James Gagliano said the county’s intent is to have a contract consistent with the other courthouse unions. Contracts have been settled for the jail employees and court-related and court-appointed employees, all of whom are under Local 964.

The commissioners Tuesday ratified a three-year contract for the court-related and court-appointed employees the union had approved two weeks ago.

All the union contracts expired Dec. 31, and AFSCME members will continue to work under their previous contract’s terms.

It is up to the union to take the next step, Gagliano said, adding, “The ball’s in their court.”

Evans said the union wants to resume negotiations and AFSCME is sending a letter to the county indicating that.

The AFSCME workers cannot resort to arbitration, and while they have the option to strike, “that word has never been brought up,” Gagliano said.

“Strike is the last thing we want,” Evans said.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Leslie added. “We want to try to get back to the table.”