2 more Butler County unions agree to merit component

Over the past two years Butler County has negotiated some component of performance pay into 10 of 14 union contracts, a goal the commissioners have sought for years.

The Water and Sewer and Maintenance departments are the latest unions to agree to merit pay. The 73 utility workers will receive an across-the-board 2 percent raise each year of the three-year deal and there is a 0.5 percent pool of money for merit pay. The merit raises will range from 0.25 to 1.25 percent.

There are only three maintenance union workers who will get a 50-cent per hour raise and 1 percent to 3 percent performance raise based on the county’s new performance evaluation. The merit money will be drawn from a 2 percent pool equal to the total annual base pay of the union workers.

Employees under the commissioners’ direct control only get performance pay. All of the unions who agreed to some form of performance reward also have an across-the-board component in their wage packages. Human Resources Director Jim Davis, who negotiated contracts said the water and sewer workers, said the “across-the-board” raises helped convince the unions to buy merit pay and to forego their step increases. They were the last union under the commissioners’ umbrella to still have step increases in their contract.

“That was part of the negotiating,” Davis said. “Losing steps was a big thing for them, giving ‘across the board’ is a big thing for us.”

When the union workers at the care facility ratified their new deal in January, their union chief Tena Swann, said she doesn’t exactly trust the performance-based system, but said since that was the only avenue for people to get raises, they agreed.

“It wasn’t an easy thing, period,” she said. “Would you like your employer evaluating you and the person next to you trying to evaluate them the same. I don’t know that I really am convinced, but after a certain point you’re just like, hmm, whatever. It’s not the only component. That’s part of the raise yes, but that’s not all of it, and that’s what I think made the difference.”

Davis said the maintenance agreement was a little unusual in that they took a 50 cent raise rather than a percentage.

“These things are very tailored to the individual units,” he said. “These are lower paid employees, we did the bump upfront for the three-year contract instead of doing a piece of it in year one, a piece of it in year two and a piece of it year three.”

When the economy tanked nearly all of the unions agreed to lump sum bonuses rather than percentage increases to their base pay. Bob Leventry, water and sewer director, said his employee’s steps have been suspended since 2009.

“There was some financial pressure on the county that caused us to request the unions to suspend the steps,” he said.

The first union to agree to some form of performance pay was the union in Court Clerk Mary Swain’s office in January 2015. They are currently negotiating a new deal.

The social workers in Children Services, after a two-year, extremely tough negotiation and a three-week strike, acquiesced. The deal, forged last Spring includes a two percent increase to the minimum and maximum salaries on their pay ranges, and the social workers received one- to three-percent pay hikes based on their performance. A two percent pool of money was available for raises. The salary ranges get another 2 percent boost this year and workers will again be eligible for merit pay. They will be negotiating a new contract next year.

Earlier this year the building inspectors in the Development Department — there are five — and nursing assistants, dietary, housekeeping and maintenance workers at the Care Facility — there are 80 — agreed to a two-percent, across-the-board increase for each of three years and a half percent performance component.

While the commissioners take the stance that the ten unions who have recently negotiated new deals have all consented to performance pay, the five sheriff’s unions disagree.

The contract for deputies and their supervisors includes a half percent increase if the employee completes four extra training assignments, participates in the annual physical fitness program and joins the county's wellness program.

When the contract was ratified in January Union Chief Sgt. Jeff Gebhart said he doesn’t view the half percent incentive as performance pay because it is voluntary and it doesn’t effect base pay.

“I think we satisfied the commissioners a little bit,” he said. “We’re doing something other than just to say give us the money. We’re doing more than that. It’s a voluntary participation and we feel the cost of living raises were fair.”

Two unions, JFS and Child Support Enforcement will start negotiations later this year. The only union that has ratified with the commissioners that didn’t haggle over merit pay was in County Engineer Greg Wilkens’ office. He said he knows the commissioners want a pay-for-performance program countywide, but he didn’t feel it was necessary.

“The circumstances were such that I didn’t feel we needed it,” Wilkens said. “Our operation is running as smooth as it ever has. It didn’t come up in the contract and when things are moving smoothly why disrupt it.”

Commissioner Don Dixon said he is very pleased with the progress the county has made. There was a time not too long ago when double digit raises where doled out and they had over 100 job classifications — now they are down to 13 — because someone needed to justify a raise.

“It’s a huge step forward for the county and the county taxpayers,” he said. “I think it shows the quality of our employees and their reasonableness, when we’re discussing how to make a long term plan that keeps taxes in line and salaries fair.”

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