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By Carmen Ensinger
They say the third time’s the charm, but the chances that the Steelworkers Union contracts for the Greene County Courthouse and Highway Department workers coming to the County Board for a vote for a third time is slim to none.
The County Board, at a special board meeting convened on Sept. 22, rejected the contracts for a second time by a 4-3 vote. They were rejected by the same 4-3 vote at the monthly Sept. 8 board meeting. Board members voting for the contract were: Chris Elliott and Andrea Schnelten, who were on the Negotiating Committee, and Regan Joehl. Those voting against it were: Joyce Clark, Earlene Castleberry, Christy Ford-Lake and Mark Strang.
The only thing changed from the first meeting was the contracts were separated into two motions – highway department and courthouse employees – instead of just one. The reason for separating the two contracts for this vote was because one of the reasons given for the last contract not passing was because of the contract giving courthouse employees a 40-hour work week instead of their current 36 hour week. Highway workers already work a 40-hour week, so it was figured by those who had voted in favor of the contract that at least this portion of the contract would pass.
Elliott made a motion to pass the Steelworker’s Contract for the Highway Department, which was seconded by Schnelten. After it failed 4-3, Schnelten asked a very simple question of those voting no.
“Did you all realize that it is not the same as the courthouse contract,” Schnelten asked. “It has nothing to do with the 40-hour work week that we talked about last time. If you all didn’t know that – it is very frustrating.
Castleberry said she knew that and that that was not the reason she voted no.
“I voted no because of the $3 increase in the contract for the office manager,” she said.
When the board had discussed the $3 increase for the office manager, the previous office manager, Diane Hendricks, had been in the position for around 20 years. Earlier this year, in an effort to secure new employees and keep its current employees in the highway department, the board agreed to a $5 an hour “wage adjustment” for all highway department workers, with the exception of the office manager. Later, they agreed to a $3 increase for the office manager.
However, at the end of June, Hendricks left the position to take a position as the new treasurer for the City of Carrollton, leaving the position open. The board hired Brooke Darr to replace Hendricks in July. She is currently still being trained by Hendricks.
Elliott thought, however, that the $3 increase shouldn’t be an issue.
“The $3 increase to the office manager was talked about and talked about and brought to meetings and discussed and no one ever said they didn’t want it in the contract,” he said. “No one said they had an issue with it so now we are in the same place we were at last time where we negotiate a contract that has been brought to the board and no issue is brought up and we negotiate that contract with the Union in good faith and then we come in after they ratify it on their end and there is an issue with it. So I don’t understand why nothing was ever mentioned before.”
Greene County State’s Attorney Caleb Briscoe was asked to be in attendance at the meeting and Schnelten asked him to explain to the board what may or may not happen if they do not ratify the contracts.
“I wasn’t at all of the meetings so I don’t know what all was said, but worst case scenario, potentially, there could be a lawsuit,” he said. “But again, I don’t know what they would allege. Best case scenario, we start over from scratch.”
Elliott wanted to hear why other board members voted no. The only other board member to speak up was Strang.
“I’m a lot like Earline,” Strang said. “I just didn’t realize that we were paying the office manager more money.”
Elliott questioned whether it was about the position or the person.
“Then I’m going to be real blunt – would we even be having this conversation if the office manager was still Diane (Hendricks),” Elliott asked. “Because if we wouldn’t, this is a bad conversation to be having because it is not about who the office manager is, it is about the position because that all started when we gave the raise to the highway men and not to Diane.”
“The highway department felt like she was slighted because of the work that position takes so they asked for her a $5 increase just like they got. We came to the board and the board was not comfortable with $5 but they were with $3, which is what we offered and everyone was comfortable with that when it was Diane and Diane is not there now.”
“So is it about the position or about the person? If it’s about the person, that is unethical. Either the position is worth that or it is not. And if it was worth that four months ago for what that job entails, it is still worth that no matter who is doing it. That is my opinion.”
Castleberry said it was not about the person.
“I think everybody has a right to change their mind upon further consideration,” she said.
Elliott then asked for a motion to pass the courthouse contracts, which also failed by the same vote.
“On the heels of that, I discussed with the Union representative and he initially said he would see if he could get the employees to change their mind about the 40-hour week since it only passed by one-vote,” Elliott said. “But, after we voted it down, surprise, surprise, now an overwhelming majority of the courthouse employees want the 40-hour week now.”
Elliott then made an announcement.
“I am telling you right now, I will no longer serve, in any form, on the negotiations committee – I am washing my hands of it,” he said. “I will fulfill my obligations on the FOP arbitration, however.”
Schnelten joined Elliott in jumping ship.
“I am washing my hands as well,” she said. “Someone else can take over and do what you want with it.”
The courthouse employees and the highway department have been working without a contract since January. The FOP contract, which was signed earlier this year, went into federal arbitration earlier this month. The Union filed a grievance this summer after the County changed insurance carriers without involving the Union in the decision.