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EUREKA - How to address non-union employees remains a point of debate after a federal mediator helped Woodford County's employees' union to reach a three-year agreement with Woodford County.

The board unanimously approved a contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on Tuesday night. The AFSCME union approved the contract 16-4 on Feb. 2, said union president Stephen Barker.

Each worker will get an extra 55 cents an hour every year of the contract and is retroactive to Dec. 1, 2005.

The raise represents average increases of 4 percent, 3.9 percent and 3.7 percent over the three years.

Barker and County Board Chairman Larry Whitaker said the raises were done on an hourly basis to stop perpetuating inequities between employees with similar jobs.

"We can't address any of the inequities if we increase salaries on a percentage basis," said Barker. About 10 of the union's 27 employees have inequity issues, he said.

The contract also brings four workers up to $11 per hour, the new minimum for union positions.

Barker said a federal mediator helped several sticky negotiations, including money, retirement costs and bereavement pay for extended family. Whitaker said the salary increases, which are higher than the cost of living, were needed to make the county comparable to similar positions elsewhere.

"If you look at the salary structure in our county compared to private industry, this helps us be competitive," said Whitaker.

Non-union inequities

The county now has to address inequity problems with non-union employees.

Former county administrator Greg Seefelt prepared a wage equity study comparing Woodford to similar counties and concluded some workers are paid up to $5 per hour less than comparable jobs in Bureau, Livingston and Logan counties.

The budget includes $30,000 to begin addressing the inequity issues, but board members agree the overall cost may be closer to $120,000.

The lower wages cause a higher turnover rate when employees take better-paying jobs after the county has spent time and money for training, said Whitaker.

A committee report is expected in April on how to apply the $30,000. The committee also may ask for a job classification study to better compare positions.

Board member Doug Simpson balked at the idea of spending $30,000 and then looking for more information.

He favored using the money based solely on the wage equity study, or waiting to spend anything until more information is obtained.

"If we get another study that shows us we have other problems, we may as well hold on to the money instead of throwing it at the wrong place," Simpson said.

However, Whitaker said the county has a commitment to apply the $30,000 to the employees outlined in the report. "I think we implied a commitment to some employees and we need to follow through on that commitment," said Whitaker.

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