Union dues rebate only 11% for non-members

Pulaski County (IN) Commissioners received a request Thursday morning from the union that represents road workers to increase their pay by $1 per hour next year and by 75 more cents in 2009, as well as providing the full cost for employee health insurance and pension premiums and partial coverage for spouses.

That’s a much higher raise than standard practice for Pulaski County. In recent years; county commissioners have usually offered a 25-cent-per-hour raise each year.

Patrick Lynch, the business representative of Local 148 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, said he understood the raise being requested by road workers was significant. “Hopefully you’ll be like Santa this year, in a giving mood,” Lynch said.

That didn’t meet with a positive response. “What I’m thinking about is what the budget looks like,” said Commissioner Bill Farnham.

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall explained that Pulaski County offers several different insurance coverage options and contributes a flat fee of $200 toward whatever plan an employee chooses. The county contributes nothing additional toward spousal insurance coverage, but spouses can buy into the county insurance plan, Ransdall said. “We are considering raising that,” said Commissioner Dennis Thornsberry.

Asked by Lynch how much the county might raise the insurance contribution and how much of a raise in wages might be considered, Ransdall said nothing can be done to prepare those figures until budget data from each county department has been submitted, and that won’t be available for several weeks.

Ransdall reminded Lynch that several of his union’s requests would have to apply across the board, not just for road and bridge department employees, and would cost substantial amounts of money.

“If we do that for the road and bridge department we have to do it for everybody in the courthouse,” Ransdall said.

Commissioners looked more favorably on some of Lynch’s other requests, including a proposal for the county to provide outerwear and one pair of work boots per year.

“At one point in the past we did provide that, but the employees decided they didn’t want it,” Thornsberry said.

That’s changed, Lynch said, and employees would like to have that as a benefit of their employment, possibly establishing an account at a local store where such items could be purchased by employees.

“Did you have any particular name or dollar amount picked out?” Farnham asked, noting that the county has accounts with Orscheln’s and with Wal-Mart for other purchases.

Lynch said he didn’t have a specific dollar amount but said employees would like “something comfortable.” However, he didn’t like the idea of union workers being directed to Wal-Mart.

“Wal-Mart is getting beaten up for a lot of their practices so we’d like to steer you to someone else,” Lynch said.

Lynch asked whether the county provides safety vests or training; Farnham said he provides road workers on his side of the county safety vests due to the higher traffic and higher speeds in the Eastern District.

Thornsberry said he’s like to see the union be more proactive with worker safety.

“Ever since the union was formed, there was supposed to be a safety meeting with the union and a representative of the commissioners and that has never happened,” Thornsberry said.

“I saw that language in there (in the contract) and we’d be glad to. Is it your desire to start those?” Lynch asked, noting that the original proposal was for monthly safety meetings.

Thornsberry was receptive to the suggestion.

“I think anytime you want to talk safety for the workers out in the field that is an important part of it,” Thornsberry said. “I don’t know if it needs to be done that often or not, but I remember that being in the contract because I thought it was a good idea.”

Ransdall, who co-owns a company that salvages items from houses scheduled for demolition at Fort Leonard Wood, said he’s required to have a daily toolbox safety meeting and supported that idea for county workers.

“It is a win-win situation for both sides,” Lynch said.

However, another one of Lynch’s requests didn’t get any support from the commissioners. Missouri is a right-to-work state in which employees cannot be required to join a union, but Lynch presented court documents and a sample agreement between his union local and the city of St. Charles in which non-union employees are required to pay 89 percent of the amount of union dues as a service fee for collective bargaining services performed on their behalf by the union.

Lynch said St. Charles workers still have the right to object to payments on a number of grounds, including religious, personal and political grounds.

“We take those objections very seriously when they come into our office,” Lynch said.

County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer wanted clarification.

“I don’t understand this,” Linnenbringer said. “You’re asking for those employees who do not wish to join the union to make fair share payments of 89 percent to the union?”

“What would be the benefit of this?” Thornsberry asked. “This is a way of penalizing people who do not want to join the union … I’m trying to understand this because I’ve never seen one of these before.”

Ransdall asked who makes the decision on waivers; Lynch said waiver requests go to the union’s executive board, which he said is composed of rank-and-file workers, not paid union staff members or officers.

Ransdall questioned that proposal.

“The commission, I don’t think has the authority to take fees from people’s checks; that’s why we have court orders,” Ransdall said.

Lynch said a 1993 Missouri court decision ruled that employees could be required to pay union service fees even though they couldn’t be required to join a union.

“We suggest you run this by your county attorney; this is just a request today,” Lynch said.

According to statistics produced by Linnenbringer after the meeting, Pulaski County has 20 road and bridge department employees. Nine of those employees are union members; one was hired recently and isn’t yet eligible for union membership.


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