Butler Co. Children Services, personnel agree to new 3-year contract

The Butler County Children Services union and management had similar goals when negotiating a new three-year deal and that was to make sure the agency is paying competitive wages to keep personnel.

The county commissioners approved the new deal Monday, and it will cost taxpayers about $506,000 more than the current contract that expired last July. County Administrator Judi Boyko said about $120,000 is for retroactive pay — $1,500 lump sum payments for 80 eligible employees — and $390,000 in pay adjustments.

“I appreciate that is a lot of money,” she said. “Based on the salary study the commissioners conducted in July 0f 2022, coupled with detailed compensation review of like agencies in the region and the adjoining counties to Butler County, we identified that Butler County was low as compared to compensation for certain positions.”

Children Services is under the Job and Family Services umbrella of agencies and JFS Executive Director Julie Gilbert said the big thing about the new contract is all union employees will received a $1.50 per-hour pay bump this year and a $0.25 equity adjustment for those have been with the agency 10 or more years.

The minimum and maximum wage ranges were also adjusted, for example the minimum range for a social worker in the highest classification — with a masters degree — went from $21.81 to $25 per hour and the maximum rate jumped from $28.46 to $31 hourly.

The union also agreed to the commissioners’ performance pay plan in years two and three of the contract. For several years the county has operated — for the most part — with a two-part performance-based pay formula that calls for pay hikes in the 1% to 3% range added to an employee’s base pay which they refer to as part A and another 1% to 3% percent available in lump sum payments they call part B.

Traditionally, the commissioners set a 2% pool of money from a given department’s total payroll for eligible, non-union employees for the base increases and an equal amount for the lump sum incentive bonuses. Last year they increased the pools of money to 3% and officials said it will likely stay at that amount. The commissioners haven’t yet approved the non-union pay increases for this year.

The contract language calls for a 2% pool of the union’s payroll but Union Chief Becky Palmer told the Journal-News if the commissioners approve a larger pool of money for non-union employees they will get the same percentage.

ExploreButler County to see $3.2 million more in wages as union contracts ratified

She said negotiations went better than past talks — the social workers went on strike in 2014 after contentious negotiations ground to a halt — and she is mostly pleased with the outcome.

“It was more interest-based, working together because we all understood the reality that the pay needed to be more competitive,” Palmer said. “We had mutual goals.”

Commissioner Don Dixon agreed, “for the past several years it’s been a lot easier in negotiations, I think there’s a lot more trust on both sides concerning the labor agreements.”

Palmer said she was disappointed the county would not allow workers a hybrid, partial work from home schedule. She said they are losing people because other social service agencies in the state allow pandemic-era hybrid work formats.

“The biggest thing that people wanted was hybrid work schedules,” she said. “Really, they probably would have taken less pay to have hybrid, because people just really, really liked that and it worked out well for the entire agency.”

Many county departments, BCCS included, were working from home during the height of the pandemic, but Dixon said everyone is back in-house now and “unless another catastrophe comes up” it will stay that way.

“We’re trying to have consistency with all our county employees,” Dixon said. “The ones that are under our umbrella, we want all those folks to be back at their jobs in person. At this point it seems to be a better solution for the agencies.”

Voters overwhelming approved a tax levy renewal by 68% for BCCS in November, that means taxpayers still pay the $55 to $57 per $100,000 of assessed value they do now to support the agency. The levy culls $14.4 million annually and it costs about $28 million to run the agency.

Children Services is charged with investigating reports of suspected child abuse or neglect, and if necessary removing them from their homes and placing them in foster care or other alternative care. They also continue monitoring them while they are in custody and work to help unify families when possible.

Gilbert said the new deal is fair to the employees and the taxpayers.

“We value and appreciate our employees and understand the need to provide competitive wages and benefits while also remaining financially stable,” she said. “I am pleased that we have a contract that is fair and fiscally responsible.”

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