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Non-union workers may get pay increases too

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River Falls, 54022
Hudson Star Observer
715-386-9891 customer support
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

An arbitrator's ruling that lifts a wage freeze for county nursing home union employees prompted St. Croix County's Finance Committee to recommend lifting the freeze on non-union workers' pay too.

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On July 12 the committee voted to urge the County Board to give 20 non-union nursing home workers the same raises the county's other non-union employees got. Those increases are 1.5% for 2006 and 2.5% for 2007. The matter is expected to come to the board for a vote Aug. 7.

"We knew we were going off on a difficult path. We tried it. It didn't work," said county labor negotiator Steve Weld, as he recapped the arbitrator's decision for the Finance Committee. He said the proposed wage freeze was an attempt to give county leaders struggling with nursing home costs "a chance to catch our breath."

The union contract must also be approved by the County Board, an action Finance Committee members find unpalatable.

County Board Chairman Buck Malick wondered about the wording of the resolution.

"What would your message be? 'Look folks, no matter how much we're losing at the county home, the arbitrator says we have to pay,'" he asked.

Despite supervisors' feelings about the arbitrator's decision, the County Board must treat its non-union employees as well as its union employees, said Supervisor Esther Wentz.

"I'd like these people to feel we care as much about them as we do about the others," she said.

Most of the workers in the non-union group are registered nurses. Their old pay ranged from $20.26 to $29.12 an hour.

County Finance Director Michelle Pietrick said the raises will cost the county a total of $12,552 for 2006 and $9,136 for the first six months of 2007.

As a result of an arbitrator's decision released June 24, the union workers will get the increases proposed by their union: a two percent increase on Jan. 1, 2006, and a one percent increase effective July 1, 2007. The county and union had agreed that the nursing home workers would get a two percent increase on Jan. 1, 2007 and a one percent increase on July 1, 2007.

The union group includes 112 current or former certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, housekeepers, laundry workers and cooks. The 2006 wages proposed by the county ranged from $12.48 to $19.13 per hour.

Arbitrator William Petrie, Waterford, concluded that it would be unfair to freeze the pay of nursing home workers but not other county employees, that freezing pay does not account for cost of living increases, that other examples of homes that froze worker pay all involved non-union homes, that other counties with nursing homes gave their employees raises and that the county didn't offer any concessions for the intended freeze.

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