Butler County social workers hold picket, move closer to strike against county

HAMILTON, Ohio – Butler County's social workers held a picket Wednesday afternoon in Hamilton, after an agreement with the county on pay rates remained out of reach.

Wednesday's negotiation talks failed, leaving doors for a strike wide open. Workers plan to begin the strike Monday.

Workers hoped the picket on High Street will raise awareness about their fight with the county.

“Since the Union had been demanding additional personnel be hired to reduce case loads, we felt that our latest offer, coupled with the fact that additional staff is being hired from Tuesday’s Social Services Job Fair, would satisfy union requests,” Charles Young, Butler County Administrator said Wednesday night in a press release. “Apparently that wasn’t enough and we must prepare for the worst. We simply cannot wait until Monday to see if workers will, indeed, strike to begin preparation. Undertaking these preparations will take significant time and resources. It is our hope that the union can accept our offer, but we must have an answer... some answer... immediately.”

In response to the strike's threat, county officials held a job fair Tuesday to replace possible soon-to-be-absent workers.

Butler County Commissioners last week authorized and directed Job and Family Services & Children Services Executive Director Jerome Kearns to hire personnel and contract for services as it “becomes necessary in anticipation of and in response to a labor dispute” with the union.

The moves came a day after the Children Services union filed a notice with the State Employment Relations Board of their intent to strike and picket on Aug. 18.

Butler County Commissioners hosted the Social Services Job Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and said they received an "overwhelming response" from more than 300 applicants.

The county plans to hire 20 permanent and 40 temporary workers for the Butler County Children Services Department. Several positions, including social workers, family resource specialists and administrative assistants, are available.

Salary wages in these positions will range from $14.28 per hour to $26.04 for candidates with a master’s degree, according to county officials.

Butler County Administrator Charlie Young said Tuesday’s job fair was meant not only to address the 11 existing vacancies within Children Services that need to be filled, but also to proactively address the likelihood of a strike.

“We’re going to bring every resource we can to bear to make sure that we serve the needs of the children of Butler County, and getting people lined up to perform that function is what we have to do,” he told the Journal-News .

Union Chief Becky Palmer said she thought it was great that after two years, the county commissioners would finally address issues with vacancies.

“This is not a new concern,” she said. “There have been eight to 20 vacancies at all times for over two years.”

Palmer said she was interested in what commissioners plan to share with possible new hires about their potential salary and pay increases.

“I am not sure how this will address the immediate need of the agency due to the requirements needed and training prior to working with families,” she said. “I think the best way to ensure the needs of the children and families are met is to be done with the current staff by working together to come to an agreement. All the effort and money they are using now could be used to pay their own staff fairly and do the job they are already trained to do.”

Kearns said being authorized to hire personnel is part of a contingency plan JFS has put in place that it will continue to modify until a strike occurs.

“We need to make sure that we are protecting kids here in Butler County and working with the families that we need to and on a long-term basis, we would have to replace some of those resources,” Kearns said.

Characterizing the tensions between county officials and the Children Services union, Palmer told commissioners last Thursday she was disappointed with them for not recognizing her 20 years of service, according to Journal-News.com .

“I work with so many families, I’ve given my heart and soul to this place and you had this opportunity for all of the staff there to say ‘thank you’ and I was told, ‘We’re too busy. You can do it at the end of the month,’” Palmer said as tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m just insulted and I want you to know that.”

Palmer said the “thank you” would have taken just five minutes and would have showed Children Services workers that commissioners cared.

“This has nothing to do with all the other labor crap going on, this has to do with me today and my commitment to this county, to this agency,” Palmer said.

Also on Thursday, county commissioners approved a tentative collective bargaining agreement

with the Butler County Job and Family Services.

If approved, the 3-year-JFS contract would be effective retroactively to Sept. 1, 2013 and continue through Aug. 30, 2016.

The union’s bargaining unit is scheduled Aug. 13 to vote on the contract, officials said Thursday.

“What today demonstrated is the commissioners support to bring to a close bargaining with that particular unit and recognize the staff for the work that they do,” Kearns said.

The particulars of the agreement cannot be released or discussed until both sides have voted on it, according to Jim Davis, the county’s assistant director of human resources.

The county and the union have been in negotiations since Sept. 10, 2013, to iron an agreement for 82 bargaining unit employees of Job and Family Services, Davis said.

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