County, union settle labor grievances

ESCANABA – An agreement has been reached by Delta County and union representatives regarding grievances filed after the laying off of six county maintenance and housekeeping employees late last year.

The Delta County Board of Commissioners approved an agreement with the courthouse chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2755, after meeting in executive session to discuss the agreement at their board meeting Tuesday. The agreement had been proposed by the county and was accepted by union members.

The provisions of the agreement state the county will open a temporary retirement window from April 1 to May 31 during which two bargaining unit employees will be eligible to retire. The cost of opening the window is $44,669 which will be paid by the county. The county has already paid the supplemental valuation cost of $1,400. Subsequently, one of these two employees will agree to retire in writing indicating their retirement date.

The agreement also notes the county agrees to cash in the retiring employee’s sick leave and vacation pay at their chief maintenance technician rate rather than the employee’s current housekeeping rate. The approximate cost to the county is $16,960 at the chief maintenance technician rate instead of the current $14,280 rate. Following this retirement, a laid off bargaining unit member who was a steward with super-seniority will be recalled. An additional employee who bumped into housekeeping will remain in their present housekeeping position following this retirement.

The terms of the agreement also indicate the director and assistant director of maintenance and housekeeping will remain working in supervisor positions. However, the head of maintenance will continue to train, schedule and require bargaining unit employees to do all housekeeping and light maintenance, while the director and assistant director will do no more than “a de minimus amount” of housekeeping or light maintenance. The director and assistant director will both continue to perform skilled maintenance.

“The understanding is that it is neither in the union or the employer’s best interest to have highly compensated managers replacing light bulbs or toilet paper,” reads the agreement.

Once the the maintenance director retires, the chief maintenance technician position will be posted and filled with updated minimum qualifications along with testing requirements in order to ensure that the new chief maintenance technician will have the skills to do plumbing, electrical and HVAC work to the satisfaction of and under the direction of the new director. The chief maintenance technician will be a union position and the county will agree to bargain as to the wage rate.

Additional terms of the agreement state that the 2.5 hour per day, five day per week cleaning position at the airport will remain. Any laid off unit employee could bid on that work when the current sub-contract expires. However, the county could award this work to the lowest qualified bidder.

The county also agrees to continue its past practices relative to part-time, irregular and/or seasonal employees, third parties, inmates and volunteers doing snow removal, lawn mowing, weeding, housekeeping and light maintenance including vacation relief.

With these provisions, all outstanding grievances relating to the maintenance and housekeeping department will be withdrawn.

“I’m glad that we come to a resolution,” said Christine Pepin, president of AFSCME Local 2755 in a phone call this morning. “Is it a great deal? No. Does it minimize the damages to our people? I think so. Our goal all along has been to negotiate this and get fair treatment.”

Pepin noted it was the grievants’ decision to resolve these issues and now she hopes they can move forward. She also expressed her hope that in the future the board “will be more communicative in advance” and to negotiate these things before making any devastating decisions.