Noting that its proposed pay increases are in line with other Minnesota counties, Becker County responded Monday, Feb. 24, to a strike voted on last week by about 160 county employees in two units represented by the Teamsters Union.
No date for the strike has yet been announced.
In a news release, County Administrator Mike Brethorst said the county was verbally notified on Thursday, Feb. 20, that the employees of the Courthouse and Human Services unions had authorized their union representatives to pursue a strike. The county is disappointed that this has occurred, he said, adding that “a fair package was offered to the employees.”
County says its final offer was fair
Becker County has offered a 2.25% general wage increase this year, plus “steps” on the salary schedule of approximately 3% for those eligible, which amounts to 5.25% increases, not including longevity pay.
For next year, the county has offered a 2.5% general wage increase plus “steps” on the 10-step salary schedule of approximately 3% for those eligible, which amounts to 5.5% increases, not including longevity pay.
Longevity pay is based on years of service and date of hire, according to the county's news release. It would add an extra 1% pay increase to eligible employees.
Those employees who are in the sweet spot and qualify for step hikes and longevity pay would see a double-digit pay hike over the next two years, according to the news release.
For example, an employee with six years of service would see a 6.25% proposed pay increase this year, and 6.5% proposed pay increase next year. Add it together and it equals a 12.75% total proposed pay increase over the two-year contract on top of base pay set for 2019, according to the news release.
How other counties compare
On average, Becker County says it is offering general wage increases as good or better than comparable counties.
In the release, Becker lists several Minnesota counties that offered its workers comparable pay hikes. The average of those selected counties is 2.16% this year and 2.5% next year, according to the county’s news release.
Commissioners were criticized by the union for giving themselves a larger percentage pay raise (2.5% for this year) than was offered to employees.
In response, the county noted that employees have received general wage increases every year for the past 10 years, for an average increase of 1.83%.
By comparison, commissioners received no increase in five of those 10 years. Over the same period, commissioners have seen an average increase of 1.19%. Commissioners also don’t receive the average 3% hike in step increases and longevity pay.
In December, Becker County Commissioner Larry Knutson cast the only vote against salary increases for elected officials and commissioners.
Union wants health insurance for part-timers
The union is also asking that part-time workers be covered by county health insurance, and it criticized commissioners for hiring part-timers to avoid paying health insurance. Commissioners were also criticized for making themselves eligible for health insurance for what the union termed their part time jobs.
In response, the county noted in its news release that the Affordable Care Act has set 30 hours per week as the point where employers are to provide insurance.
“Becker County believes that this is appropriate and that there is no compelling reason to expand coverage beyond the level set by Congress, nor can the county afford to do so,” the county said in its news release.
Becker County offers health insurance contributions to employees who work 30 hours per week or more, according to their release. It has never made contributions to employees working less than 30 hours. Part-time employees do accrue vacation and sick leave.
Next step in the process
Under state law, the union and county must initially participate in mediation for 45 days, and the two parties are then subjected to a 10-day “cooling off” period before the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services calls them back into mediation for a final session, according to the Teamsters.
If the session fails to produce an agreement, then the county employees are permitted to strike at a time of their choosing. The law provides striking county employees with union protections, and requires that terms of the expired labor agreement be followed until a successor agreement is negotiated, according to the union website.
Becker County said that the next step in the process will be to wait to receive official notice from the union. Pending notice, the county and union will continue to meet for negotiations.