Butler County management and the social worker union failed again Tuesday to agree on a new contract but the two sides agreed to take the last offer by each side back to the commissioners and the union membership.
Union President Becky Palmer announced Tuesday that she had a deal to offer the county that coincided with county leaders’ pay-for-performance plan. She said the county was still sticking with the lump sum offering. She said her team agreed to take cost of living steps off the table.
“That was a huge, huge decision we had to make to do that,” she said. “We agreed to the merit performance thing and pretty much used their terms on it. The only thing specific with us was a modest wage increase, nothing even close to what the fact finder said over three years… We’re almost blood dry so I’m not sure how much more we can do.”
County Administrator Charlie Young issued a statement after the talks broke down at around 4:30 p.m.
“The county is disappointed that we could not reach an agreement today,” Young said. “The divide continues to be pay increases that the union wants, but that the county cannot afford.”
Palmer said the management team agreed to show the county commissioners their proposal and she would present the results of the meeting to her people. She said they haven’t scheduled a new meeting but rather will communicate via e-mail or by phone.
“We agreed, when we left that table, they would take our proposal to the commissioners,” she said. “That’s what I want the commissioners to be responsible for, to be accountable to.”
Young said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the negotiating session, but said the commissioners have met with their negotiating team throughout the 14 month process to ensure their position was understood.
The social workers have been walking a picket line for six days, without pay and a $14,000 — $2,000 a day for 55 strikers — health benefit bill looming over their heads. As of Tuesday 55 workers were on strike and no more striking workers had returned to work. Many people have gotten part-time jobs to make ends meet. Palmer said earlier that she had hoped the standoff would end today.
For its part, the county negotiating team has some new salary figures that show the union members might not be as underpaid as the state fact finder ruled. However, Palmer said the new salary survey was never introduced during the bargaining session.
The divide is over about a $1 million difference between what the workers wanted and the county says it can afford. The lump-sum $500/$550 payment the county has settled on with 10 other unions would cost $213,000 extra. Meanwhile, the fact-finder recommended 1.5/1.75/2 percent pay bump, with a reopener in the third year to negotiate pay-for-performance, plus cost of living steps, which has an additional price tag of $1.3 million, according to Young.
The county issued a cease and desist letter on Friday because officials said the striking union workers were scaring the public by telling false tales about the state of the agency in their absence. Palmer said they’ll “cease and desist all of the threatening we’re not doing.”
The county held a job fair prior to the strike and between new hires and the help of supervisors, non-striking workers and help from some outside social service agencies, Young said by Monday they were up to pre-strike staffing levels.
The state fact finder declared the workers underpaid because she agreed with the numbers the union provided from the same counties Clemans Nelson used in a survey of non-union employees several years ago.
The new survey looks at Clermont, Hamilton, Montgomery and Warren counties. The survey shows the minimum salary of $15,78 per hour for a new social worker is below Clermont, Hamilton and Montgomery counties, in fact $3.80 below workers in Dayton. However, after six months that person gets a 3.4 percent pay bump and a promotion after a year, bringing the salary up to $17.34. There are 16 entry level social workers out of 102 total.
There are 50 social workers at level four and their minimum $19.58 salary is higher than all but Montgomery County, by about $2.
More than 100 people attended a town hall meeting that the union held Sunday. Palmer said she hoped the county commissioners would recognize the outpouring of support for the social workers and negotiate with that in mind.
“We hope that the county commissioners recognize the important job that we do and demonstrate this to the community they are responsible for in Butler County by getting us back with the children we protect,” she said.
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