5 Of 6 County Unions Freezing Contracts

March 03, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Five of six county unions have agreed to postpone contract talks until next year, leaving Detention Center employees alone last week at an impasse with the Neall administration.

The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 582 decided Thursday night to extend its contract in the face of warnings that the county cannot afford a cost-of-living raise when fiscal 1992 begins July 1, Personnel Officer Richard Mayer said Friday.

Bargaining units for 3,500 county workers have taken the gamble that the economy will improve enough in the coming year to win improved pay and benefits.

The only labor holdout is the 89-member prison union, represented by the United Steel Workers of America Local 9206.

Negotiations broke down after fruitless talks last Monday and the union declared an impasse, Mayer said.

Administration projections show the county ending fiscal 1991 with a $17 million surplus beyond its $617 million operating budget. Neall has ordered a hiring freeze and other spending cuts to enlarge the surplus in an effort to preserve the county's bond rating.

He expressed little worry that the prison union could topple his carefully constructed effort to produce a no-growth budget.

"It's an area of concern, but I wouldn't consider it crucial because a majority of the unions we deal with have recognized the problem," he said Thursday.

If the prison union secures County Council support after negotiating with the county through state labor mediators, every other bargaining unit would by law win the same benefits, Mayer said.

A 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment for all employees would cost the county $4.7 million next year. Under the current contract, across-the-board raises have varied between 4 percent and 9 percent for different employees.

The prison union'spresident could not be reached for comment last week.

By delaying negotiations this year, the five other unions have won protection against contract concessions to save the county money. The county had prepared a list of give backs, including merit raises, health insuranceand working hours, it would have sought from employees.

"By agreeing to extend the contracts, the county has agreed to extend those benefits," Mayer said.

The most important benefit is about $7.5 million in merit and longevity raises that would go to county union members as well as more than 7,000 Board of Education employees.

After passing a $353 million budget Feb. 22 that did not include pay raises, the school board faces an impasse with unions representing teachers and secretaries. The board still faces a $1 million deficit this year.

The proposed school budget -- which requires executive and council approval -- marks a 7 percent increase over this year's, about half the growth rate during the administration of O. James Lighthizer.

But the budget does not offer improved working conditions for teachers, who offered to retract a request for a 10 percent pay raise. Secretaries also complain that they will have to continue treating ill pupils at the elementary school level, where there are no nurses.

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