County workers' union rejects contract
DANVILLE — There are no plans yet to restart negotiations between Vermilion County and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers after county workers represented by that union voted down tentative contract agreements.
County Attorney Bill Donahue said it's possible the two sides will go back to the bargaining table, but the ball is in the union's court. The union members voted down the tentative agreement on Friday.
The previous contract expired in November of last year, and Donahue said the two sides have been negotiating since that time. Two other county collective bargaining contracts were also up in November and are still not resolved — the contract representing county highway department workers and the contract representing workers at the Juvenile Detention Center. And now, Donahue said, negotiations for a new contract with the county sheriff's deputies and correctional officers are just beginning.
Donahue said the tentative agreement with the IBEW, which represents judicial and non-judicial workers in the county, would have been a four-year contract. Although they are negotiated together and are very similar, there's a separate contract for judicial workers, which includes workers in the county probation department, circuit clerk's office and the courthouse bailiffs, and a separate contract for non-judicial workers, which includes workers in the state's attorney's office, the health department, animal shelter, building and grounds department, and all offices in the Vermilion County Courthouse Annex. The annex houses the county clerk, treasurer, recorder, auditor, county board office, supervisor of assessments and election commission.
The proposed agreement also would have made some significant changes in overall compensation to the county workers it would have covered.
Donahue said it was a different approach than what the county has done in the past.
"You can understand people are a little taken aback," he said.
The proposed agreement included wage increases, but also would have ended longevity and payout for unused personal days as well as reduced the total number of personal days from more than a dozen to six. Long term, Donahue said, the contract would save the county money.
Donahue said the county has been waiting for six years for the state to pull itself out of its financial struggles, and now the federal government, too, and it doesn't appear that will happen soon.
Donahue said this contract would help the county long-term in an uncertain future while also bumping up salaries, some of which have historically been low. Donahue said there are quite a few positions earning $17,000, $18,000 and $19,000 a year.
He said the county wanted to get those "off the basement floor." He said giving percentage increases maintains the divide between wages on the lower end and wages on the higher end. Donahue said in the past, some of these jobs used to be part-time or second-income jobs, but they are not anymore.
So, the proposal for wages was for employees making $20,000 or less per year to receive a $1,000 increase the first and second years and a $750 increase the third year and a $500 increase the fourth year.
Those making more than $20,000 would receive increases of $750 each of the first two years and $500 each of the last two years. Probation officers, who have degree requirements, would have received increases of $1,250 in each of the first two years and $1,000 in each of the last two years. And clerical workers in probation would have received a $750 increase in each of the four years.
In the second year of the contract, whatever longevity a worker had accrued by December of that year would have been added to that person's base salary. The county would then eliminate future longevity, which gives a worker an additional lump sum payment in December based on a formula that includes a worker's length of service with the county. For some employees, Donahue said the longevity is hefty.
"We're trying to position ourselves to be more self-sufficient," said Donahue, who explained that paying longevity along with unused personal days each December creates a cash crunch for the county.