Some services return in 2nd week of strike
The standoff between Lane County and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees continued Monday as the strike by more than 500 county government workers moved into its second week.
Employees marched outside the Lane County Public Service Building in downtown Eugene and other county offices, continuing their strike over pay and health care terms in contract talks that began in March.
County officials said some health, veterans and land-management services resumed normal operations Monday, as the number of AFSCME-represented employees reporting for work reached 151.
Nine hours of negotiations through a state mediator failed to yield a contract agreement between the county and union Sunday. The sides will meet again Wednesday.
As they did late last week, union representatives on Monday said that the sides appeared close on terms for a three-year contract, while county officials said they seemed far apart.
County negotiators gave AFSCME a contract proposal Sunday afternoon, which the union responded to late that night. Lane County spokeswoman Devon Ashbridge said county staff still were analyzing AFSCME’s counterproposal Monday.
“The cost at first glance appears beyond the county’s (financial) means,” Ashbridge said of the union’s counter-offer. “We’ll be continuing our evaluation and get clarification.”
But Oregon AFSMCE Executive Director Stacy Chamberlain said the union’s proposal had moved significantly closer to the county’s.
“The current separation (now) is very small; we believe less than $1 million for the general and nurses units,” Chamberlain said.
In the first year, the county’s proposal would give the employees a roughly 3 percent average cost-of-living raise, along with a step increase of 3.7 percent for workers who are not at the top scale of their job. In each subsequent year, workers would get a 2 percent annual cost of living increase, and those not at the top of their scale also would receive a 3.7 percent step increase, although the exact amounts would vary, depending on the position.
The offer would raise the county’s total personnel spending on AFSCME-represented workers by about $8.8 million during the three-year contract, the county says. That’s a total increase of about $12,700 per worker over the three years. AFSCME represents 692 workers.
The county proposal also would require employees to start paying $240 to $840 a year toward their health insurance premiums, for which they currently pay nothing.
The union had proposed far higher raises than the county’s offer, averaging 14.8 percent for AFSCME general unit employees in the contract’s first year and 19.8 percent for the AFSCME nurses unit, based on the union’s offer submitted to the state last month as talks hit an impasse. The union also rejected the proposal that employees start contributing to health plans, saying the payments would result in a net pay decrease for workers in lower-paying jobs.
The county disputes that. They said none of the AFSCME-represented workers would see such a decrease, given the cost-of-living and annual step pay increases that the county’s proposal offers.
The larger raises would have increased county personnel costs by $32.6 million during the contract, or an average of $47,100 per worker over the three years.
AFSCME officials Monday released updated contract terms they said that the union shared with the county the night before. Under those terms, AFSCME-represented workers would start contributing toward their health insurance premiums starting July 1, instead of the county’s offer of Jan. 1.
Documents provided by the union Monday listed the proposed grades, or pay steps, workers would move to under their offer, although wages weren’t listed.
Under its most recent proposal, general unit employees in 12 job classifications and nurses unit employees in all 18 job classifications would move to pay steps between one and six grades higher than under the county’s proposal, the union says. The raises would apply to 266 AFSCME workers, according to the documents.
Dozens of county employees marched Monday around the perimeter of the Public Service Building, holding signs and cheering as cars honked in support. Stacie Smith, a 15-year employee at Lane County Assessment and Taxation, said she was striking more for her lower-wage-earning colleagues than herself.
“I want to be supportive of my coworkers who could see their wages decrease,” Smith said.
She praised managers in her own department and said she wasn’t unhappy with her own pay, but argued the county’s contract offer would leave longtime office assistants and other employees struggling to keep up with daily expenses.
“We feel there’s not a lot of value given to people who have been working for years on the job,” she said.
One of those office assistants is Drew Pryor, who has worked for the past two years at Lane County Developmental Disabilities Services. He said workers were resolute in continuing the strike until the county treated them fairly.
“We all value our positions and the work we do. We’d like to get back to work. We just want to come to an agreement that benefits everyone,” Pryor said.
County officials said they’re standing firm on their $8.8 million offer. At a daily briefing Monday, Lane County Commissioner Sid Leiken declined to say whether the county would consider going higher if that was the only way to reach an agreement.
“I don’t want to speculate,” Leiken said.
He emphasized commissioners’ responsibility to taxpayers, and noted five other Lane County employee unions representing sheriff’s deputies, parole and probation officers, county engineers and others have included similar wage terms and health-care premium cost-sharing to those proposed by the county for AFSCME-represented workers.
“Our goal is to make sure these two units are going to be consistent with the other five we’ve already bargained successfully with,” Leiken said. “Hopefully at the end of the day, if there is a resolution, it will be very close in line with where the other five bargaining units are.”
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