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Union seeks 50-cent hourly pay raise from county

WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (Dec. 22, 2008) — Union representatives for the Pulaski County Road and Bridge Department asked county commissioners Monday morning to provide a 50-cent per hour pay increase to road and bridge workers and increase the longevity pay from 25 cents after each five years of service to 35 cents per hour.

Those figures are important since traditionally in Pulaski County, the pay raise given to road and bridge department employees in union negotiations has then been applied across the board to all other county employees. No decisions will be made on the union’s proposal until budget discussions begin in January.

Patrick Lynch from Local 148 of the International Union of Operating Engineers said union members weren’t seeing an addition to the county’s current $225 contribution to the employee insurance program but would like that written into their contract. Lynch said commissioners had previously been “somewhat receptive” to the longevity pay increase.

Lynch asked whether Pulaski County had investigated ways to cut insurance costs or restrict their increase; Commissioner Dennis Thornsberry said the county had already raised the deductibles offered to employees from a choice of $500, $1,000 or $1,500 to 2009 levels of $1,000, $1,500 or $2,500 to control costs. Changing insurance companies probably isn’t viable, Thornsberry said.

“The problem with this insurance is somebody will come in and lowball you to change your insurance and then the second year you’ll get a 28 percent increase,” Thornsberry said. “So you have to be very, very careful what you do.”

Commissioner Bill Farnham said another part of the problem is that large numbers of county workers don’t take the county insurance because they are retired military personnel with much cheaper TRICARE insurance or spouses of people who are military retirees or who work on Fort Leonard Wood and have cheaper insurance programs.

“We don’t have that many people who have the insurance; we’re in the under-50 (employee) group and a lot of people don’t want to bid on us,” Farnham said.

Lynch proposed a change in the retirement plan that would allow the county to buy back 50 percent of the unused sick time.

“You have language in there now that upon the death of an employee, the county will buy back all unused sick leave at the rate of 100 percent and pay it to the surviving spouse, which is commendable, but we’d like to give them something while they are still living,” Lynch said.

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall said that would actually be a decrease in benefits to employees since generally employees build up significant sick time and vacation time but take their unused leave time in their last weeks before their final date of retirement.

Thornsberry said Lynch’s proposed change would require a change in the county’s policy manual.

“You’re asking to change policy for the road and bridge department that would affect the entire county,” Thornsberry said. “You’re not being loyal to the rest of the employees if you give road and bridge something different than you give to everybody else.”

That’s not necessarily the case, Lynch said, noting that some counties he represents have different benefits and pay structures for road and bridge workers than they have for the rest of the courthouse employees.

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