Luzerne County union rejects proposed contract

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Luzerne County Courthouse -

Members of the Luzerne County’s AFSCME residual union recently rejected a proposed contract, leaving the status of negotiations unclear, according to county Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik.

Described as the “rank-and-file” contract, the residual agreement covers 165 workers, including 911 telecommunicators, security guards and some employees in road and bridge, building and grounds, mapping, voter services and several other offices.

Residual workers can’t seek binding arbitration if negotiations reach an impasse because they have the right to strike. Parsnik said both sides are scheduled to meet again soon.

Proposed agreements were approved by union workers in three human service departments represented by Teamsters Local 401 — Children and Youth, Mental Health and Developmental Services and Aging — Parsnik said. County council must approve the contracts.

Workers in the final union with a contract that expired Dec. 31 — AFSCME court-related — are expected to vote on the county’s proposal this week, Parsnik said.

• Potholes on area roads — including 127 miles owned by the county — were discussed at last week’s county council work session.

Councilman Harry Haas said he frequently receives emails complaining about potholes.

County Manager C. David Pedri said his inbox has been “quite busy” with pothole concerns the last two weeks.

“I busted my tire on a state route out here,” Pedri said. “It’s been a difficult winter for Northeastern Pennsylvania.”

County road and bridge crews have been working overtime repairing potholes, but a more lasting “hot patch” asphalt solution likely won’t be available until this week, Pedri said.

• Council Vice Chairman Eugene Kelleher said Pennsylvania has one of the highest gas taxes in the country, prompting him and many others to question why more revenue isn’t invested in repairing existing roads.

“I’m really ticked off wondering where the crap all our money is going,” Kelleher said. “I’m not happy with the state and how they’re fixing our roads with all the money we’re giving them.”

Kelleher said his residence is on a state road in Dallas Township, and there are no potholes in his area.

“They’re foxholes. I went in one, and I had to get a ladder to get out,” he said.

• Filling vacancies in the road and bridge department has been a challenge, Pedri said. He told council he is in the process of hiring someone for one equipment operator position, but the county has been unsuccessful recruiting applicants for the three remaining operator openings, despite rounds of advertisements.

Councilman Robert Schnee blamed the $25,000 starting salary, which equates to $12.02 per hour.

“Where are you going to get a backhoe operator for $12?” Schnee asked. “You’re just not going to find one.”

Pedri said the compensation is set by union contract.

• The county’s current annual capital plan had removed a $1 million allocation toward the $2 million replacement of the demolished Division Street Bridge over Solomon Creek, but Pedri said the project may still be completed.

The work may be largely covered by a portion of the $15 million in county community development funds that will be earmarked for infrastructure, primarily in low and moderate income areas, Pedri said. The money comes from a business development loan fund that is no longer in high demand.

Pedri said he is working with Hanover Township and Wilkes-Barre officials on the project, stressing both municipalities also will be expected to contribute funding and reach an agreement on future ownership. The county already owns 304 bridges, most inherited during the Great Depression.

“At the end of the day, the county does not want to own that bridge,” Pedri said.

Hanover Township residents had urged county officials to restore the capital fund earmark, saying loss of the bridge has led to bottlenecks and hazardous driving by motorists cutting through side streets to escape congestion.

• Two new 2,170-pound boilers have been set up in the courthouse subbasement and are awaiting connection by UGI Energy Services, Pedri told council.

The new heating system will end the county’s reliance on steam delivered through an aging and deteriorating underground pipe linked to a boiler plant near the prison on Water Street.

Pennsylvania-based McClure Company, which is handling the project, also has been on site completing building weatherproofing.

Luzerne County Courthouse County Courthouse

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes .

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes .