AFSCME, county at odds over contract

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 27, 2003

The five Lawrence County administrators who are members of the AFSCME Local 3319C will have to wait a little longer to ink a new contract with the Lawrence County Commission.

The commission Thursday adjourned their meeting without taking a vote after one commissioner expressed reservations about money language in the two contracts that would have covered the employees from Jan. 1, 2002 until Dec. 31, 2006.

After an executive session, Commissioner Jason Stephens told the county's attorney, Randall Lambert, that he had a problem with the pay increases that would be given to the five union members.

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"I'm uncomfortable with it," Stephens said. "It is difficult to negotiate a fair agreement when different funding sources are used. Two of them are paid out of the (Union-Rome) Sewer District funds, one is paid from Children's Services and two are paid out of the county general fund. Two of those budgets are financially able to absorb these increases, not that (the increases) aren't merited.

"At any time in the future, the general fund could be in good shape and the sewer district could be in financial trouble."

Commission President George Patterson and Commissioner Doug Malone agreed to wait before voting on the matter, citing Stephens' concern. Both Patterson and Malone said that Stephens had not mentioned his concern while they were negotiating a contract. They said they wished he had mentioned his concern over pay increases while both sides were trying to reach an agreement, instead of waiting until Lambert was ready to discuss the matter publicly and the commission was expected to vote on it.

"He had no problem with it, talking in there," Malone said of the pay increase issue that had been discussed in bargaining sessions.

"When this negotiation started, we should have taken off in a different direction, then," Patterson said. "I want to be fair with them and I want them to be fair with us."

Asked what would happen next, Patterson and Malone said they did not know.

Stephens said later that he had brought up his concern in executive sessions.

The five administrators have been working without a contract since Dec. 21, 2001, when the old contract expired. One of the two proposed contracts would have given the union members a lump sum payment to compensate for a pay hike they would have gotten had a contract been in place for the contract year running Jan 1, 2002-Dec. 31, 2002.

A second contract

running from Jan. 1, 2003- Dec. 31, 2006 would have allowed pay increases of 2 percent the first year and 3 percent each of the next two years. The contract called for the union members to agree to recent changes made in the county's health insurance. This year, the county commission opted to pay a set amount toward each employee's health insurance premium each month, instead of the previous 85 percent contribution.