2010-01-07 / Front Page

Union Contract Finalized With County Officials

County spends over $100K on legal fees to ratify four-year agreement
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

Negotiations between the Fulton County commissioners and Teamsters Local Union No. 992 representing a small number of Probation and Domestic Relations employees will likely get under way later this year for a new contract, even though the group’s very first collective bargaining agreement was only ratified late last month.

On the heels of signing off on the four-year agreement, which began retroactive to January 1, 2007, and will end on December 31, 2010, Fulton County commissioners Bonnie Mellott Keefer, David Hoover II and Craig Cutchall announced in a prepared statement, “We are pleased that the county has reached a contract with seven employees of the county who are employed by the Domestic Relations Department and the Probation Department. The contract was ratified on December 22 and balances our responsibilities to the community, courts and the seven employees.”

According to Tom Krause, principal executive officer for the local Teamsters based in Hagerstown, Md., unionization occurred in September 2005. The union, in turn, began negotiating shortly afterwards for a variety of issues ranging from pay raises to safety and equipment precautions for the seven employees who include but are not limited to adult and juvenile probation officers and Domestic Relations hearing officers. Managementlevel employees, supervisors, first-level supervisors, confidential employees and guards are excluded from participating in the union.

Representing the county commissioners as members of a “negotiating team” were county business manager Tim Stanton and Kathleen Bruder, legal counsel from Rhoads & Sinon of Harrisburg. A PA Open Records request submitted to the county by the “News” revealed legal fees . expended by the county totalled “$103,342.62 over the period of 2005 thru the signing of the contract.”

As a follow-up to the December 22 comment, the county released a second statement where the commissioners admitted to spending money on legal fees, in addition to staff time that was required to resolve the issues.

“It is estimated that the expenditures over a five-year period would have increased eight times compared to the cost of legal fees if the county accepted the original proposal of the union,” said the commissioners, who added further matters specifically addressed included “economical issues” and language that would not violate the judiciary’s constitutional right to hire, fire and supervise court employees as stated in Section 1620 of the County Code.

At the request of the “News” Krause of the Teamsters highlighted several of the key points of the agreement. Among those talking points are collectively as a group, the employees are slated to receive an estimated $42,000 in back pay to compensate them for negotiated raises.

Union employees are also slated to receive a “lump sum bonus” when they reach 10 and 20 years of service as well as comp time or pay rate of time and one-half the regular rate when they complete work on Saturday and Sunday. The contract, which was obtained by the “News” through an additional PA Open Records request, further defines a standard work week for full-time employees as being Monday through Friday with at least 37.5 hours of work performed. Provisions are also in place at this time to compensate employees who are on call during a holiday or are called out for incidents.

Furthermore, touching on the area of health and safety, a variety of equipment must be provided to the employees for their protection such as bullet resistant vests, gloves, spit bags, handcuffs, duty belt, baton holder and firearm cleaning gear in bulk. The county will also be held responsible for providing firearms training, ammunition for training, ammunition for duty and other necessary items without cost to the employees.

The contract further stipulates union employees will be compensated for court-prescribed training. Reimbursement includes up to $500-perjob related undergraduate courses as long as the employee receives a grade of C or higher. Furthermore, any employee obtaining a job-related master’s degree post September 9, 2008, to maintain or excel in their employment will receive a one-time lump-sum payment equaling 3 percent of the person’s salary at the time of attainment of the degree. Payment must be received within 30 days of receiving the degree.

“This is a good first contract for the seven court-related employees involved,” concluded Krause. It provides security for our Fulton County members and their families. It protects our members and gives them a decent wage for the vital jobs that they do. They do this job because they are committed to public service not because they want to get rich. They deserve a fair wage and working conditions as much as anyone else. Now they have that.”

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