County approves contract with Jailors union despite oppositionWORTHINGTON — Despite a request from Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening and Jail Administrator Monette Berkevich to table a three-year labor agreement between the county and Teamsters Local 320 (the union for the jailors), Nobles County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the agreement.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Despite a request from Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening and Jail Administrator Monette Berkevich to table a three-year labor agreement between the county and Teamsters Local 320 (the union for the jailors), Nobles County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the agreement.
Wilkening and Berkevich cited concerns with specific language in the contract pertaining to leave and vacation time for jail employees. Wilkening also voiced his disappointment in not being invited to the contract discussions between the union, Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert and county commissioners Diane Thier and Vern Leistico.
“This is going to be very problematic,” Wilkening told the board. “I think we need to put this on hold until we have a chance to talk about this with the Teamsters.”
Commissioner Marv Zylstra, who spoke with Wilkening on Monday, explained the bidding process for vacation time that was in place for jail employees, as well as the seniority that allows senior employees precedence on selecting days off. According to the last contract, after Feb. 1, senior employees no longer have precedence over days requested by those with lower seniority.
“In the new contract they took away the two-week limit, so it’s unlimited what you can request,” explained Zylstra. “You could take up to three weeks off, and then, during that open period (after Feb. 1), it’s still going to be based on seniority.”
“We’ve already had requests for five weeks off from someone on our senior staff — for three weeks in June and two weeks in August,” said Wilkening.
He also said new language in the contract states that after the 10th of the month, administration cannot make any changes to an employee’s work schedule without their approval.
“In our business, things change from hour to hour because of people getting sick, transports, (etc.),” Wilkening said. “It’s going to be very hard to work with some of the language in this contract.”
When asked by commissioners why Wilkening or Berkevich didn’t attend any of the negotiating sessions, Wilkening said they were not invited by the county administrator.
“We were told we didn’t have to be there,” added Berkevich.
She told commissioners there have already been some problems in the “pod” because of the language in the new contract.
“I’ve got five (employees) that this benefits and 15 that this does not benefit,” Berkevich said.
Commissioner David Benson cited concerns with tabling the contract because it might jeopardize what he called favorable rates for employee compensation. The three-year contract states employees will receive a 1.5 percent raise retroactive to Jan. 1, another 1.5 percent raise July 1, 1.5 percent raises on Jan. 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010, and then a 3 percent raise on Jan. 1, 2011.
“I’ve got very mixed feelings about opening this up,” Benson said. “It’s a legally binding agreement that has been signed (by the union).”
Leistico also had concerns about tabling the contract.
“I feel they were very close to taking this to arbitration,” he said. “If we postpone this and they take it to arbitration, it’s going to cost us a bunch of money.”
Zylstra moved to table the contract due to the effect it could have on staffing, as well as overtime. His motion died for lack of a second.
A second motion to approve the contract was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Zylstra opposed.
Wilkening said he and jail administration will work to implement “some very strict rules” on how vacation time can be taken.
“We’re not really happy with how this contract was negotiated and how it was written,” Wilkening said.
In other action, the board:
Wilkening asked for the transfer of funds to show the other counties in the task force that Nobles County is committed.
“I don’t know if it’s a chess game or what,” said Wilkening. “Everybody’s waiting for the first move to put that money in.
“I ask that you do this today to show the other counties that you are committed to this task force and that you’re committed to fighting drugs,” Wilkening said.