Workers in Luzerne County’s 110-employee court-related union aren’t celebrating their new contract awarded through binding arbitration because of the amount of pay increases and rising health-care contributions.
However, union head Paula Schnelly said the pact preserves valuable union protections for seniority.
In an attempt to comply with home rule merit-based personnel decisions, county officials wanted to add language allowing circumvention of seniority in layoff and promotion decisions, she said.
“The arbitrator ruled in favor of keeping the seniority language,” said Schnelly, of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.
The county’s approach demonstrated “complete disregard to an employee’s years of service,” she said, adding loyalty, experience and institutional knowledge should be rewarded.
“Seniority does matter. That’s the very essence of the union,” Schnelly said.
The county is permitted to enact new personnel codes, but the changes can’t conflict with the union agreement and are subject to union grievances, Schnelly said.
The union represents sheriff deputies and clerical staff in court-related offices.
The prior contract expired at the end of 2011.
Employees will receive no raises for 2012 or the first four months of 2013. The union will receive $500 pay increases for 2013, effective May 1, and $750 for 2014.
The average salary in the union is $30,000, Schnelly said.
In the old contract, employees hired before March 1, 2008 paid $30 a month for single health care coverage up to $75 for family. Employees hired after that date paid 10 percent toward coverage.
The new contract requires the pre-March 2008 workers to pay monthly contributions ranging from $35 to $88 until Jan. 1, 2014, when they will start paying 12 percent.
The other employees will start paying 12 percent on May 1, and new hires must contribute 15 percent.
Schnelly said the county did not initiate changes to a 40-hour work week. Sheriff deputies work 35 hours per week, while the rest of the union is at 32.5 hours.
Binding arbitration is permitted for unions that can’t strike.