Montgomery County Children Services union workers will vote on the county’s final contract offer Wednesday after both sides sat in a public court session Monday afternoon.
Common Pleas Judge Richard S. Skelton had ordered the public mediation as a Sept. 21 deadline looms for an agreement to be reached on a new contract.
Skelton made it clear to both sides that he is interested in the safety of the children and had made previously scheduled sessions private in hopes that an agreement would be made.
“It is much better to try an get a resolution when both sides feel they can speak freely,” Skelton told the court. “We haven’t succeeded, and we don’t have an agreement.”
The judge provided both sides the opportunity to lay out their final offers with less than a week left before union members, represented by the Professionals Guild of Ohio (PGO), would go back on strike. PGO represents about 270 child welfare workers who handle abuse and neglect cases for about 2,000 children.
Attorney Nadia Lampton represents Children Services and said a 5% across-the-board increase will be offered but not to employees who are at the top tier of the pay scale.
When the process began over seven months ago, the union wanted a 6% increase for all bargaining unit employees. The county originally offered a 1.5% increase.
The county later offered a 2% increase for all bargaining unit employees. Then the county went to 4%. And most recently, it has offered a 5% increase for all bargaining unit employees, retroactive to April 1, which resulted in a tentative agreement between the parties.
“After the tentative agreement was reached between the county and PGOs bargaining committee, PGO representatives came back to the table and wanted the 5% increased in a way that violated the collective bargaining agreement,” Lampton said.
She said the CBA provides that when an employee’s wage rate exceeds the maximum rate, those employees will remain at that rate and will only be eligible for annual OPERS’ eligible lump sum payment (approximately $500) as opposed to additional hourly rate increases.
“The county was prepared to give all employees a 5% wage increase,” Lampton said. “The union came back to the table after reaching the tentative agreement and demanded an additional increase for those employees who already exceed the maximum rate under the CBA.”
Jane Hay, the union’s local president, said the county’s offer is not fair and does not measure up with he county’s latest contract with workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union.
“The county’s final offer of 5% does not include workers who are topped out or on the top of their pay range,” Hay said. “They would only get their raise in a lump sum. So that was not for the full membership. As the cost of living goes up and health insurance, they deserve the 5% not just the lump sum.”
Hay and union member Eric Kanthak are also worried that the contract does not include “no reprisal” language that they say would prevent the employer from taking adverse action against those who went out on strike.
The union struck in July, but Skelton ordered them back to work almost immediately and issued a 60-day injunction preventing the workers from walking off their jobs. The injunction had been sought by Montgomery County. Both sides met in two recent private sessions on Sept. 6 and Sept. 11.
“We are looking at the county looking to retaliate against certain employees for their involvement in voicing their opinion,” Hay said.
Kanthak added that the lack of “no reprisal” language was left out on purpose and leaves many union members vulnerable to retaliation. But they feel that the union membership deserves the right to vote on the county’s final offer.
“Everybody gets one vote,” Hay said.
County Commission President Debbie Lieberman upon learning of Wednesday’s vote told this news organization that, “Montgomery County is gratified that our PGO union members will have an opportunity to vote on our most recent offer, which is a 5 percent across-the-board wage increase. Myself and my fellow county commissioners are very supportive of all our unions, and this has been a difficult time for all us.”
Skelton asked the county to file a contingency plan in case the union rejects the contract offer. He said both sides will have to meet Friday if no agreement can be reached.
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