The Butler County sheriff has come to terms with four unions, cementing new three-year contracts that could cost up to $1.17 million in new money depending on retirements and other factors.
The new agreements are between the county and 196 members of the Wage and Benefit Committee representing corrections officers and their supervisors, dispatchers and clerical specialists. Depending how many people retire or take the new sick leave buyout program additional costs for wages ranges from $990,000 to $1.17 million.
Negotiating union contracts used to be painful and contentious but Major Mike Craft said the last several have been a breeze, “we were able to strike a fair, happy medium for everybody, everybody concedes, nobody gets everything they want.”
“When everybody gets together and they don’t come in with guns a-blazing and terrible attitudes, you sit down and you just talk facts and the facts speak for themselves,” Craft said. “The sheriff doesn’t want anybody to be the lowest paid officer in this area, but he’s not going to let anybody be the highest, because that’s just not good discipline of taxpayers’ money.”
Craft said when he took over negotiations a few contracts ago, when it was common for the sheriff and his people to go to arbitration to settle contract differences he learned using comparables with other law enforcement agencies is the key to success.
The new contracts call for 2.5% increases in each of the three years, longevity step increases and other incentives. The sheriff ratified contracts with the deputies and their supervisors in February that included 3% pay hikes for a total of $318,150 in new money this year.
Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer again pointed to the use of comparables to explain the raise differential.
“All of our contracts are driven by what people of comparable employment are currently making,” Dwyer said. “So we go with the market, we’ve done this before like there was a pretty good adjustment with dispatch one year because we were out of whack and weren’t able to attract people. So you have to find ways to do it.”
The pay ranges that were set for this year for corrections officers and their supervisors range from $44,574 annually for rookies up to $82,680 for the most experienced lieutenant; salaries for dispatchers range from $42,536 to $61,172 and $32,676 up to $51,750 for clerks. Employees who receive an unsatisfactory rating on their performance evaluation do not receive step increases.
Several years ago the commissioners established a pay-for-performance program and endeavored to convince all their unions to accept that model, rather than automatic increases. Most if not all unions have adopted merit raises in some form.
The sheriff’s employees generally receive incentive pay increases of 0.5% if they participate in a physical fitness program that requires running or walking a mile in 18 minutes, a minimum of five push-ups and seven sit-ups or crunches, use fewer than five sick days and participate in four non-mandatory training assignments.
The clerks and dispatchers don’t have the physical fitness component but do have two hours of public relations and four hours of other training and the sick day requirement.
Craft said he is “most proud” of the new training they provide and employees are encouraged to take.
“It’s called personal training session but it’s more about customer service,” Craft said. “The sheriff is very high on this and I think it’s critically important that we don’t lose touch with, we are public servants and I want people to be humble and gracious with the public and treat them with respect. I think a course geared toward that just kind of reminds everybody why we’re here.”
Also new in these contracts are sick time buyouts which encourages people not to call off ,and they have strengthened the physical fitness component by requiring the 18-minute mile. And instead of just “attempting” push-ups and crunches, a definite number of each are required.
He said all employees are encouraged to take advantage of physical fitness opportunities.
“If I can implement an incentive program to keep people’s health better look how much money it’s going to save the county health insurance,” Craft said. “Just because they’re not out chasing bad guys it’s critical we stay in the best health that we can to reduce the burden on the taxpayer.”
The union president could not be reached for comment.
Commissioner Don Dixon said he believes the contract is fair to both sides and he too is glad they have gotten past the days, like 2014 when the FOP unions went to fact-finding and then conciliation with the State Employment Relations Board (SERB) because the two sides couldn’t meet on a wage re-opener. Because sworn officers can’t strike, contract disputes that reach an unbreakable impasse go to binding arbitration.
“They’ve been very good to work with as far as helping us hold the budget and keep things in line,” Dixon said. “I don’t think I would ask for anything else, it’s fine. Better than the old days when it was a fight to finish and we couldn’t afford what they wanted and there was no cooperation. It’s not like that anymore.”
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