Union workers to get 2% raise


County Executive Janet S. Owens has decided to give the county's blue-collar workers a 2 percent raise starting Saturday, even though their union rejected the county's three-year contract offer last week.

In addition, Owens said she will try to increase the pay of 911-call operators, hoping to slow a cycle of defections caused by chronic overtime and relatively low pay.

"The fact is, these operators have one of the county's more stressful jobs, yet they are underpaid when you compare their wages to the regional market," Owens said Friday.

The union local's president, Scott Harmon, said he hopes county officials will agree to resume talks on a multiyear contract soon rather than waiting until next year.

"Hopefully they will go back in and try to renegotiate something so we can get a deal we can all agree to," said Harmon, of Local 582 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

But the county's personnel officer, Randall Schultz, said he did not think that would be possible. The county's labor agreement with the union calls for the contract to be automatically renewed for one year if members do not ratify a new pact.

Owens' announcement on the raises came two days after members of the blue-collar union rejected 153-100 the county's offer of 2 percent raises in each of the three years. Because the pay scale would have been restructured as well, many of the 834 union members would have seen increases of about 5 percent.

But many employees felt the county should have offered more money, and some expressed frustration with how Owens' staff handled the acrimonious contract talks, Harmon said.

After Wednesday's vote, Owens held out the possibility that she would withhold a pay increase, despite including the money in her budget. Nonrepresented county employees will receive 2 percent raises, but some employee groups - especially police officers and firefighters - will see more.

Harmon praised Owens for deciding to go ahead with the raises, which will cost the county $575,000. He also said he appreciates her desire to help the approximately 80 dispatchers who handle 911 calls. Harmon said the union has complained about the dispatchers' plight for a dozen years.

"The problem is the ladies and gentlemen who work down there can do a less stressful job in another municipality and make more money," he said. "They're leaving in droves. One or two per week on average are packing it in and going. That creates pressure on those who remain. ... It becomes a vicious cycle."

Owens said she is not sure how best to help the dispatchers. Several options will be considered, including reclassifying their jobs to a higher salary level and providing additional across-the-board pay raises.

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