Resolution to review county wages dropped in exchange for wage study: Are county employees paid more than other government workers?
Plan to review NCCo worker pay dropped
By ANGIE BASIOUNY
The News Journal
Dozens of New Castle County employees who arrived in buses for Tuesday night's County Council meeting wasted the trip, but were not disappointed.
Councilman Robert Weiner, a Republican sponsoring resolutions calling for a review of worker pay, withdrew the measures before the meeting because he had "zero support" from fellow council members, one of whom called the resolutions "nonsense."
The workers, who packed council chambers in protest of the resolutions, gave Weiner a lengthy standing ovation when he canceled the proposals.
"These resolutions are not necessarily the solution, but they are intended to start a dialogue," Weiner said.
At issue were three measures urging the county to restructure its pay system to eliminate or reduce merit raises, or spread them over a longer period of time. Weiner said he wanted to explore the idea because salaries and wages account for nearly two-thirds of the county's operating budget.
Virtually all of the county's 1,657 employees are covered by union contracts that prevent layoffs while offering 3 percent annual raises. In addition, county law sets up pay grades that carry 5 percent step increases for the first 10 years for employees who pass their performance evaluations.
That means county workers who start at the bottom step can get an increase of 8 percent a year for the first 10 years of employment.
Cindy U. Williams, president of Local 1607, a union representing technical workers, said the contracts also mean employees' pay is often stagnates after they go through the steps.
"I was frozen for nine years," she said. "I only got what the union got us."
She said this year 45 percent of the employees in her union have hit the last step, and that number will climb to 59 percent next year. They get only the annual percentage increase.
Buses already paid for
Williams and other union representatives said they were pleased that Weiner withdrew his resolutions, but they wished they had known sooner. The employees rented two buses to bring them to the 7 p.m. meeting tonight for peaceful protest.
"The buses are already paid for," Williams said.
Most of the union contracts last three years and won't expire until 2008.
Under federal labor laws, the county cannot change the terms of a union contract while it is in effect.
"We don't come to the legislative branches and try to resolve our issues," said union leader Michael A. Begatto, of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 81. "I think we've been reasonable. We haven't been out of sync with our pay raises. We take our duties and responsibilities of our jobs very seriously."
Weiner said the benefits in the contract must be re-examined.
"Our choices are very limited and we only have a couple of ways to deal with [the deficit]," he said. "I believe that no part of the budget should be sacred from analysis."
Republican Councilman William Tansey and others have said they want to examine the pay system, but think Weiner's approach was wrong. A discussion should not take place unless all the stakeholders are involved, they said.
"I think we have an excellent county work force, and we need to think long and hard before we take away something that takes 10 years to achieve," said Councilman Bill Bell, a Democrat.
Councilwoman Patty Powell, a former county employee and union advocate, said commenting on Weiner's proposals would be a "waste of breath. I think it's a bunch of nonsense."
County Executive Chris Coons also did not support Weiner's proposals.
However, Weiner said the executive did agree to a salary study that would compare pay rates of New Castle County employees with workers in similar counties.
Weiner said that study would begin next month.
Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or email@example.com.
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