County commissioners negotiate with union over working conditions

By Ellie Callinan, For The Miami Student

Butler County management and its union social workers are in the process of negotiating a new salary contract. The negotiation process is confidential; however, it involves both parties competing for differing interests, mainly over salary amounts.

In late August and September, 48 Butler County social workers participated in a 20-day strike. Both union and non-union members formed picketing lines in Hamilton to raise awareness in the community.

The protestors were asking for pay increases in their contract. They eventually came back to work, but negotiations have continued since.

The union contracts are often three-year agreements. Usually, the process reopens every three years and both parties have the opportunity to reconsider certain features and rewrite a new proposal based on the effectiveness of the previous contract.

The current negotiation development, however, has been in progress since June 30, 2013, when the last contract expired. The union and management have been bargaining ever since.

Butler County’s Human Resource Director, Jim Davis, explained the two parties are having difficulty settling certain issues, which is why this specific negotiation process has taken so long to complete.

“We are continuing to exchange proposals, but there is no way of knowing how long this will go on for,” Davis said.

Rebecca Palmer, the union president, believes the reason the process has taken so long is due to a failure on the part of Butler County to recognize their interests. She claimed the county does not appreciate the value of social work and it is evident in their wages.

“If one party is unwilling to compromise or recognize past concessions, then there isn’t much to negotiate,” Palmer said.

According to Palmer, union members benefit from the ability to depend on other workers and a contract to be treated fairly. They emerged in Ohio when the state allowed public sector employees to bond together within a certain profession. The members attempt to combat unjust working conditions, hours and pay.

Union social worker wages are a highly debated topic in unions, especially in regard to how the salaries compare to those of non-union and private sector employees. For management workers, it is difficult to find out how high the salaries are for private sector personnel because there is salary secrecy, according to Davis.

In the public sector, however, knowledge of employee salaries is more easily accessible, and is sometimes even published publicly.

Davis said it can often be challenging to decide what the appropriate wages are for public government workers. Butler County uses a salary administration plan to assess the proper pay for the employees.

“We administer salaries and we compare ourselves to other similarly situated agencies across other counties,” Davis said. “We try to make sure we are where we need to be.”

According to Davis, Butler County management hopes to settle the agreement soon and has been working hard to do just that.