Butler County makes two new union deals: Here’s what they get

Things to know about Butler County, including history and facts.

The Butler County commissioners have ratified new union contracts with two social service agencies, deals that include pay-for-performance incentives and will cost taxpayers nearly $700,000 over three years.

The new contracts with Children Services and the Child Support Enforcement Agency both follow the county’s performance plan for all non-union employees.

Under the deals workers can receive a raise of up to 3 percent on their base pay and another lump sum increase of up to 3 percent, both based on their performance. The Children Services union members also got an increased cell phone stipend from $35 to $45 per month. The total estimated cost of the new BCCS contract is $390,302 for raises for 107 union workers over two years and $24,480 for the cell phones, according to Finance Director Barb Fabelo.

The CSEA workers also received an increase in salary ranges for a total cost of $282,354 for 54 workers over the three-year deal. Job and Family Services Executive Director Bill Morrison, who oversees both agencies, said the pay bump outside of performance was warranted.

“For some reason over time when they’ve tried to get contracts they’ve tended to be at points where the economy was poor, I think they became a union during the (Great) Recession,” Morrison said. “Their starting salaries had become way too low compared to JFS in particular. Their people were being paid about $2 an hour less.”

CSEA Union President Cami Jones said members were grateful to have locked in the raises given these uncertain times amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s acceptable considering we’re in the middle of a health crisis. We’re glad that we can still get raises and not put on a freeze like we were in the past, especially with this going on right now,” Jones said. “We’re happy with that, we just still didn’t get everything we wanted.”

However, she said the pay range increases mainly benefit new employees. She said they have eight open positions, and about half the staff have been there 15 to 29 years.

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“They increased the minimum because they’re trying to get people in,” she said. “What we have a problem with is they won’t give any extra for the people that have stayed -- that stayed through the pay freeze, that stay every time other people leave. We stay and get the work done.”

The Children Services Independent Union did not renegotiate it’s entire contract, just extended the current wage agreement another two years. Past negotiations between the two sides have been challening, even leading to a three-week strike six years ago this week.

Union President Becky Palmer said now wasn’t the time for another rough negotiation, especially when relations are good with BCCS Director Julie Gilbert.

“We want to continue this positive relationship through these difficult and challenging times,” Palmer said. “We were glad that we could come to this agreement together.”

The commissioners have been striving for years to get all unions to agree to their pay-for-performance plan. The commissioners set a 2 percent pool of money from a given department’s total payroll for eligible employees for the base increases and an equal amount for the lump sum incentive bonuses. In the case of the unions, it is a pool of just the union member’s payroll.

Commissioner Don Dixon said the program stabilized the finances and saved “literally millions of dollars” after performance boosts were previously were inconsistent. That consistency should happen even for departments and boards supported by levies, he said.

“It goes to the heart of the plan and that is that we treat all of our employees with parity in terms of ranges and job performances and what they make, because we’re all part of the same organization, part of the same team,” Dixon said. “It’s all taxpayers dollars, it doesn’t make any difference if it comes out of the left pocket or the right pocket.”

The unions have traditionally resisted pay-for-performance, preferring across the board the increases and longevity steps because of fairness concerns.

“They’re not completely happy with it, it is better than everybody getting the same raise since some people do more work than others, as long as it’s used fairly,” Jones said. “I’d say for the most part it is fair but I still think there’s some favoritism, not a lot, but I think there is some. The majority of it does seem to be fair.”