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County, workers settle three-year contracts

Although not all county negotiators are happy with the results, Pierce County supervisors approved three-year union contracts trading pay raises for employees paying a larger share of health premiums.

Negotiations began in September 2007, and while both sides have agreed on the terms, final signatures still aren't on two of the contracts, said county Personnel Specialist Sandy Langer last week.

The new contracts for 2008, 2009 and 2010 for the six union groups give two raises a year to 221 employees. The raises are two percent each Jan. 1 and a second increase of one percent each July 1.

Because all the contracts were approved late in 2008, most of that year's raises were paid retroactively.

The contracts gradually raise the share employees pay for health insurance. In 2008, union workers paid eight percent of health insurance premiums. On Jan. 1 of this year, that increased to nine percent. On Jan. 1, 2010, it will increase to 10 percent.

In 2008, the general insurance plan for family coverage cost $1,576 per month. Each employee with that coverage paid $126 each month. This year, that plan will cost $1,765 per month, and the employee will pick up $159 of the cost.

Three county board members -- Jerry Kosin, Mel Pittman and Bill Gilles--voted consistently against the contract packages. Kosin and Pittman voted against all six contracts. Gilles voted against five, but was not at the November meeting when the contract for sheriff's department workers was approved.

The pay packages are more than the county and its taxpayers can bear, insisted Pittman, who along with Supervisors Jim Camery and Ron Lockwood, represented the county in negotiations.

"To call it negotiating is to use the wrong word almost," complained Camery, who said the county has little control over the process. He said that, while he didn't agree with every part of the contracts, it took many months to get this far and there has to be an agreement in the end.

"If it gets voted down now, we're back to square one," Camery told fellow supervisors as they prepared to vote on the first set of contracts.

"I think it's a reasonable compromise," said Lockwood, the third county board member on the negotiating team.

"We don't know what's going to happen in three years," protested Kosin, who objected to three-year contracts. "I don't know if the people of Pierce County can afford this."

The budget can handle this in the short term, but it's hard to say what will happen long-term, agreed Camery.

If the county reaches the point where it can't afford the raises, it will have to trim jobs, said Supervisor Jeff Holst.

These are the six union groups: The Labor Association of Wisconsin (LAW) community health unit, 17 members; LAW Sheriff's Department, 39 members; Teamsters human services, 25 members; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) courthouse unit, 57 members; AFSCME Highway Department, 54 members; and AFSCME human services, 29 members.

LAW Sheriff's Department: As of Jan. 1, the regular hourly pay rates for members of this group who have five years experience and are at the top of their pay scale range from $25.47 for the patrol deputy sergeant to $24.09 for a patrol deputy to $22.08 for a secretary/deputy/jailer.

AFSCME Highway Department: Current hourly pay for these workers ranges from $22.09 for the shop foreman to $20.78 for truck drivers, patrolmen, night maintenance workers and semi-skilled bridge workers.

Teamsters human services: As of Jan. 1, hourly pay for this group ranges from $33.15 for a mental health therapist II to $28.52 for a social worker III to $23.45 for AODA counselor I.

AFSCME courthouse workers: Current pay ranges from $22.28 an hour for a computer technician to $17.57 an hour for deputies and clerks in most courthouse offices to $13.15 for recycling laborers.

LAW community health unit: As of Jan. 1, hourly pay for this group ranges from $29.20 (after five years) for master's degree level nurses and nutritionists to $26.79 (after five years) for bachelor's level nurses and nutritionists to $13.46 for home health aides (after five years).

AFSCME human services unit: Current hourly pay ranges from $21.29 for a benefit or computer support specialist to $18.78 economic or child support specialist II to $17.38 for administrative assistants to $13.55 for food service drivers or site workers.