Disgruntled workers’ proposal rejected
ARENAC COUNTY —In the ongoing saga of Arenac County contract negotiations, the local steelworkers union packed the Arenac County Board of Commissioners meeting on April 7 with a new proposed contract that included demands of a fairer deal to make the unit equals in the world of government employees. The commissioners, who were joined by Arenac County Labor relations Manager Bill Borushko, turned down the proposed contract.
The steelworkers union put forth the proposed contract as an alternative to the contract they’re currently working under, which was imposed by the commissioners last fall when the two sides couldn’t reach a compromise.
According to Borushko and Steelworkers Union Representative Mike Flora, the new proposal aimed to change several language items in the contract. Some at the meeting said the changes would close doors to misinterpretation experienced in the past, as well as changes to the pay scale, which ended up becoming the declining factor for the board.
“There were about five pieces of language they wanted to change, which I thought was resolvable, and still do,” Borushko said. “Although, one of those, the sickness and accident action plan we’d probably have to discuss a little more.”
“I think if it were just the language items, the commissioners would have passed it,” Flora said. “But I don’t think the union would have been very happy.”
According to the proposal, depending on the exact salary of each individual, raises were requested at 40 cents per hour the first year, 29 the second and 40 the third, equaling approximately two and half, two and two and a half-percent raises over three years, compared to the two and a half, two and two the other unions received in the latest county contracts.
“We (steelworkers) don’t think we’re asking for a lot,” equalization clerk and local steelworkers’ union president Norma Curcio said. “The difference is nine cents.
“We’re just trying to catch up [with steelworkers’ wages in other counties].”
“I thought the offer was fair,” Flora said. “I didn’t think 10 cents was a big deal (or) out of range.
“I just hope we can resolve this thing.”
Borushko and the commissioners said they sympathized with the steelworkers, acknowledging the union was most likely slighted in past years, especially when it came to wages, but due to financial constraints of the current national recession, combined with the uncertainty of state profit-sharing, and the fact the group was incapable of coming to an agreement within itself on contract terms multiple times before the current contract was implemented, they board members said they not willing to renegotiate the raises at this time in fairness to the other unions.
“Over the course of last year, I got to know these people (steelworkers),” District V Commissioner Joseph Sancimino said. “The big white elephant is the county financial situation.
“What came out during those negotiations, we (county and steelworkers) had four tentative agreements they didn’t pass or ratify. I like them, but we have no choice but to stick to our financial plan. The last contract was the best we could do and that’s where I stand. Hopefully, we can give them more in the next years. I feel unfortunate but I have to reject.”
“It (passing a new proposal) sets a bad precedent for future negotiations,” District II Commissioner Raymond Daniels said. “That would say, ‘hey, just hold out and we’ll get what we want.’”
“If it was up to me, I’d give ya’ a dime or say, ‘hey, how about a nickel,’” District I Commissioner Robert Luce said. “But I have to think about the people [I represent].”
“I think that (giving the steelworkers a bigger raise than others) was a major concern,” Borushko said, adding it would open a door for unions to hold out in the future.
Flora sees the situation differently.
“The group is paid less than others in the county,” he said. “They’re a small group overall, but they’re the biggest in the county. Some of the other unions only have two or three people. I can’t see a two-person union holding out.”
Curcio and other union members also informed the board of their displeasure over the negotiation process, saying they were appalled over the lack of give and take.
“Going through negotiations, we had to have a proposal before we even sat down,” Curcio said. “Most of the time the contract was turned down (by the union) it was because of language; we didn’t want the same problems (previously dealt with). Our union didn’t trust the proposal without it written out.”
“(This) group is older and used to the old way of negotiating,” Flora said of the lack of give and take that the union says is occurring. “We didn’t expect you to start at 2-percent and stay.”
Borushko says the negotiations didn’t have to start at a 2-percent raise, though.
“We could have started at negative, you pay us to work here,” Borushko said. “What sense would that make?”
He also says he doesn’t think the steelworkers are considering everything that’s occurred.
“We increased the insurance liability,” Borushko said. He added health care premiums have increased to about $1,000 per person, which he figures, by implementing the contract when the board did, saved each person about $165 out-of-pocket per month – which he also says wouldn’t be reimbursed under retroactive payment of the union proposal.
Confrontations not withstanding, neither side said it believed permanent implementation of the current contract would affect employees morale significantly.
“They’ve (steelworkers) been working for six months under the contract,” Flora said. “There’s a lot of long-term employees here, and even the new employees are pretty loyal.”
Another term of negotiation the steelworkers would like to change in future negotiations is how raises are given.
“We’d like to have flat-raises in the future,” Curcio said, adding percentage-based raises those making more money receive is a bigger raise, causing an uneven distribution of wealth.
“Employers have traditionally done it this way,” Borushko said. “I don’t think it adds to the gap, but it does maintain it. We may look at doing that in the future.”
The next step in the union negotiations process would be a fact-finding hearing, which Flora says is strictly a recommendation.