County social workers remain without new contract

County officials say they are willing to deal if offer is right.

Becky Palmer, president of the 127-member Butler County Children Services Independent Union, said county officials have told her they want to meet, but no new bargaining sessions have been set up. She said the county’s chief negotiator, Jim Davis, mentioned there are “options” to discuss, but then he backed off.

“Jim called and said, ‘Let’s meet; there are some options out there,’” she said. “And that’s as far as it went.”

County Administrator Charlie Young said the $550 lump-sum payment is the county’s “last, best and final” offer. However, he said a concrete union offer that spells out pay-for-performance is something to talk about.

The union offered to take the $550 lump sum retroactive to July 2013, a two percent across-the-board raise in year two and a 1 percent across-the-board increase in year three of the contract. There is also a two percent pool of money available for pay-for-performance in the third year.

The union’s last offer would cost the county an extra $523,280. The county’s $550 lump sum figure amounts to an additional $219,288. At the outset of the strike, the divide was more than $1 million, based on a fact-finder’s recommendation for 1.5 percent, 1.75 percent, and 2 percent pay increases over three years, with a reopener in the third year to negotiate pay-for-performance, plus cost of living steps.

Young said if the union can offer something that would benefit the county, namely performance pay, officials would deal.

“Theoretically, they did (agree to performance pay), but it’s always the details,” he said. “What we haven’t seen is something from them that lays out all of that in a way we can accept it.”

During the three-week strike that started on Aug. 16, there was a lot of finger pointing and what the county called “false information” disseminated by the union about missed court dates and visits, among other things, at Children Services. The union claimed the county’s assertion that everything was “business as usual” was untrue.

Chris Schultz, executive director of Parachute: Special Advocates for Children of Butler County, the court-appointed special advocates agency that works very closely with the social workers, said there is probably truth somewhere in the middle.

“I think there was a bit of turmoil because parents didn’t know who to call because their worker was not there,” she said. “I’m sure the supervisors were taking care of the cases, but it would have overburdened. You know, when you have 50 people out of work at the same time that certainly impacts. It’s certainly not anybody’s fault, but that’s what was happening.”

During the strike the county paid $51,312 for 1,012 hours of overtime and 270 hours worth of compensatory time. There were two workers who racked up over 30 hours of overtime during the second week.

Now both sides have complaints filed with the State Employment Relations Board. The county filed an action after the strike ended citing some of the untruths they say the union told and also because a photo of non-striking workers with a derogatory comment surfaced on the union’s Facebook page. The union filed its complaint before the strike, claiming the county “bargained in bad faith” and “intimidated” employees who planned to strike.

The workers — who lost their paychecks and benefits during the strike — said they broke their picket line because they couldn’t let the children and families they serve “suffer” anymore by their absence. Their contract, which expired 15 months ago, has essentially remained in effect, except for the wage section of the contract, according to Young.

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