Wright County Human Services braces for potential strike

It’s been 20 years since a union representing employees of Wright County has gone out on strike, but on Feb. 20, AFSCME Local 2685, which represents the employees in the Human Services Department, unanimously approved an intent to strike notice.

Grace Baltich, union president for Local 2685, said that the union membership hasn’t been allowed to be actively involved in the negotiating process on a new contract, which expired 14 months ago.

“We’ve been working without a contact since Jan. 1, 2012,” Baltich said. “We’ve been in negotiations for more than 16 months and no progress has been made. As human services workers, we provide a valuable service to the resident of Wright County who need assistance the most. These are the most vulnerable people in the county – from children to the elderly – and we want to make sure they can get the vital services they need. We don’t believe that, given the job that we do for residents of Wright County, that the offer that has been on the table for the last 16 months is fair.”

Wright County has seven union bargaining units in which they negotiate contracts with. Four of those units have agreed to contracts – each of them calling for zero wage increases for 2012 and 2013 and a 1 percent increase in 2014.

The local Teamsters union is currently in the process of voting whether or not to approve its contract offer and the union representing deputies in the sheriff’s department is currently in the process of seeking binding arbitration because, as public safety employees, they are not allowed to strike.

The last time the county had a strike of employees was when the 49ers union, which represents employees in the highway, parks and surveyor’s departments, went out on strike for several weeks in 1993.

County Coordinator Dick Norman, who oversees union negotiations for the county, declined comment on the county’s negotiation process, other than to say, “We don’t discuss negotiation strategies the county is involved in. Over the last year, we have brought forward union agreements to the county board and those have been consistent.”

In a AFSCME news release issued Thursday night, Baltich stated the following: “We are all in this together. We are willing to be a part of the solution, but the county refuses to accept any proposals we have brought to the table, including proposals that increase employee productivity at no cost to the county.”

A mediation session is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25. The Local membership will wait until after this session before filing their formal notice of intent to strike with the Bureau of Mediation Services. “The last thing we want to see happen is an interruption in the valuable services we provide to our communities,”  Baltich said in the news release. “We want the commissioners to meet with us and find a fair resolution to this protracted negotiating process so we can focus our time and energy on serving the public.”

See next week’s print edition of the Monticello Times for an update regarding the Wright County Human Services Department’s intent to strike notice.