Children Services workers file 10-day strike notice

Montgomery County Children Services workers file strike notice with state

The Professionals Guild of Ohio, representing 272 employees in Montgomery County’s Children Services Division, has filed with the State Employment Relations Board a 10-day notice of their intent to strike, Montgomery County officials confirmed Monday.

The sides had reached impasse over wages for the third year of the employees’ contract, from April 2019 through March 2020. The agreement included a “re-opener” clause to negotiate wages for the third and final year of the contract.

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On June 25, county commissioners rejected a fact-finder’s report that recommended the union’s proposal should be the one adopted, with minor changes.

The PGO union represents children services caseworkers and others in Montgomery County.

Monday afternoon, county Administrator Michael Colbert said in a statement that county leaders respect the caseworkers’ difficult jobs in protecting vulnerable children. But, he said, the county’s final offer was fair and fiscally responsible.

“Please rest assured, our operations will remain open and we will continue to provide high-quality services during a strike,” he said, referencing a “comprehensive contingency plan” to serve children and families. 

Asked for details, county officials said about 70 non-union employees would “cover essential services” in the event of a strike. 

Jane Hay, local PGO union council president, questioned how the county could do that effectively, especially asking families to trust unfamiliar faces in high-stress situations. 

“They want to appear that they can … but you have to have certain qualification to be a caseworker, to make the face-to-face visits with people,” Hay said.

“There are notes that you have to put into the statewide system, and you can’t put in notes for somebody else. Who’s going to testify in court? So court-involved cases probably are not going to move forward.”

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On June 20, fact-finder William Heekin issued his report supporting the union’s proposal on pay raises, with two adjustments. The county commissioners rejected that report June 25. 

According to Heekin’s report, the county proposed eliminating a grandfathered pay scale, increasing the remaining scale 1 percent while also giving eligible employees a 2 percent raise (effectively a 3 percent combined raise for many). But some workers’ pay would be frozen if the “grandfather” changes left their existing salary above the top of their scale. 

The union’s proposal called for larger raises, citing the increases other county employees had recently received – at least 6 percent in most cases when combining base pay and “step” raises, according to the report. 

Heekin sided with the union’s call for a 4 percent raise, plus a 2 percent merit increase for employees who get a certain rating on their annual evaluation. 

County officials said the parties met again, most recently on July 2, where the county made its final offer. Colbert’s statement said the county offered reasonable raises but has to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money, including human services levy funds. 

“Our goal is to provide fair and competitive compensation, so that we can recruit and retain top talent,” he said. “Our PGO workforce is already well compensated, with our child welfare caseworkers the highest paid in our region.” 

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