“It’s really important that people understand this is not about not valuing the work they do. We know our child welfare case workers have really difficult jobs and they deserve to be fairly compensated, but we do feel our last offer was fair,” Wooten said. We are still hopeful we can work something out with the union going forward.”
The union had earlier rejected a 4% wage increase, Hay said.
“The offer was less than what our membership had already voted down,” Hay said. “We had promised our members we would not bring anything back less than what they already voted down.”
Children Services workers are under contract through March 31, 2020, but that agreement included a “re-opener” clause to negotiate wages for the third and final year of the contract.
According to State Employment Relations Board (SERB) documents, the parties met several times, including mediation sessions in February and March, but did not reach agreement. SERB appointed a fact-finder, who held a hearing on the wage issues May 29.
On June 20, fact-finder William Heekin issued his report supporting the union’s proposal on pay raises, with two adjustments. But on June 25, the county commissioners voted to reject that report.
According to Heekin’s report, the county had 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 county will focus on providing uninterrupted service to children and families, Wooten said.
“We do have contingency plans for the worst-case scenario to continue services in the event of a strike,” she said.
The contingency plan calls for redirecting people from other work areas to manage the caseload — and not all workers may walk out — Wooten said.
About three-fourths of those employees represented by the PGO are child welfare caseworkers, while others are clerical, benefits, IT and other staff. The union was looking for a 6% increase, the same the county recently gave employees represented by AFSCME, Hay said.