Pay hikes, rising health care costs issues

Last updated: June 11. 2014 11:46PM - 1960 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Leaders of Luzerne County’s residual union are trying to set up a meeting with the administration about options to avoid the first county strike in more than three decades.

Joe Rowe, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 87 in Dunmore, also said he also is soliciting feedback from residual union members on why they rejected the county’s proposed contract Tuesday.

Members voted 65-34 against the contract, while another 65 members did not vote, the union says.

The union covers security guards, levee and road and bridge workers, maintenance employees, 911 dispatchers and clerks and other staff in the following offices: budget/finance, election, controller’s, assessor’s, treasurer’s, mapping, purchasing, planning/zoning, information technology, coroner’s, solid waste, veteran affairs and community development.

County Manager Robert Lawton and other administrators declined comment Wednesday. They were awaiting a proposal from the union before deciding whether there’s reason to return to the bargaining table.

Several union members are attributing the proposal’s failure to a perception raises won’t offset rising health care costs that would take effect next year.

The county is proposing no raise this year and increases of 2.5 percent in 2015 and 2 percent in 2016 and 2017, employees say.

A 2.5-percent increase would be $765 on the average residual salary of $30,600, which was tallied based on county payroll records.

This increase would more than cover the county’s proposal for residual employees to pay updated 10 percent contributions toward health care. The increases amount to $106 for single coverage, which would rise from $526 to $632 annually, and $556 for family coverage, which would increase from $1,286 to $1,842 annually, county officials have said.

The county also wants employees to pay a new $500 hospital deductible, but only if they are admitted.

The lowest-paid residual employee is a building and grounds worker receiving $20,500, county records show. A 2.5-percent raise would amount to $512 for this worker.

A length-of-service, or longevity, bonus also would remain in effect for employees hired before August 2001 that ranges from $250 for 15-plus years of service and increases to $1,000 for 30-plus years of service, sources said.

Employees are not paid when they strike, and a strike vote would be required for the residual union to stop work. The union also could opt to do nothing and continue working under the contract that expired in December, though it’s unclear if the county would challenge that plan.

If a strike occurs, the county likely would file a court action forcing 911 dispatchers to work because they handle emergency services, officials say.

Unionized Aging and Children and Youth employees had a five-day work stoppage in 2001, but the county’s last full-blown strike was in 1980 and involved 500 AFSCME workers.

That strike, which lasted about a month, had been the first in county government history, according to prior published reports.

County Councilman Edward Brominski, who was a commissioner at that time, said the strike ended days after he met with union workers to explain provisions of the proposal misunderstood by many on the picket line.

The workers had unionized in 1979 before Brominski took office, he said.

The workers ended up receiving 7-percent raises and increasing their work week from 30- to 32.5 hours, published reports say.

Brominski said managers handled most of the duties of striking workers while they were off the job.

“It was kind of hairy. There were even nails thrown in the back parking lot,” he recalled.

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