Luzerne County reaches tentative agreements with five unions

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Parsnik -

Luzerne County’s administration has reached tentative agreements on five new union contracts covering approximately 570 employees, county Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik said Monday.

County council approval is required for new contracts to take effect.

The proposed agreements will be presented to council if they are accepted by union membership vote in coming days, Parsnik said. He declined to provide any pay increases or other changes in the proposed agreements because the contracts are still in the negotiation stage.

All five contracts expired Dec. 31. They cover residual and court-related employees represented by AFSCME and workers in three human service departments under Teamsters Local 401 — Children and Youth, Mental Health and Developmental Services and Aging.

AFSCME representative Paula Schnelly said union votes have been scheduled on Wednesday for court-related workers and on Monday for residual ones. The county and her union agreed to refrain from publicly discussing details during the negotiation process, she said.

Local Teamsters union head Pat Connors could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

If negotiations reach an impasse, the court-related unit is the only one of the five with the option to pursue binding arbitration, which is available to unions unable to strike. With arbitration, a contract is set by a board consisting of a county and union representative and a neutral arbitrator selected by those two.

Health contributions

All five unions already were at or above the county’s target 10 percent contribution toward health insurance.

The two higher exceptions, according to a review of the expired agreements:

• Residual workers hired after 2013 pay 15 percent.

• Court-related workers pay 12 percent if they were hired before May 1, 2013, and 15 percent if employed after that date.

Non-union employees have been paying 10 percent for more than a decade. Some council members have pressed the administration to start shifting workers toward a new benchmark of 20 percent or more.

Depending on the type of plan selected, this year’s contributions for employees at 10 percent range from $28 to $86 every two weeks. At 12 percent, those amounts run from $33 to $104.

The county’s Highmark HMO plan is still more generous than many in the private sector but now includes a $500 deductible — $1,000 for family — that kicks in for many services, officials have said. Emergency room visits are not subject to the deductible, but a $100 copay was added and waived only for those admitted to the hospital.


County Children and Youth Director Joanne Van Saun has publicly called for a compensation increase for caseworkers in her agency, saying the pay has contributed to difficulties filling that high-stress position.

Entry-level caseworker I positions start at $29,371 annually in the county, while caseworker II jobs requiring less supervision and training begin at $31,764.

The administration has said the compensation concern may be addressed during contract renewal negotiations.

A similar complaint had been raised about the pay for 911 telecommunicators covered in the residual contract.

Instead of waiting for the new contract, the administration and council hammered out a special agreement with AFSCME providing compensation bumps for these 911 employees in 2016.

This contract amendment increased the starting salary of 911 telecommunicators from $25,500 to $32,000 and provided $2,500 raises to current telecommunicators making more than $32,000.

The move has reduced turnover and improved morale and recruitment, officials said.

Described as the “rank-and-file” contract, the residual agreement covers around 200 workers, officials said. In addition to 911 telecommunicators, the union represents security guards and some employees in road and bridge, building and grounds, mapping, voter services and several other offices.

With the exception of telecommunicators, the residual starting salary was $21,000 in 2017.

The court-related contract covers about 100 sheriff deputies and clerical workers in various departments, including the civil and criminal court records, wills, deeds, public defender’s and district attorney’s offices.

Starting salaries for court-related workers range by position, including $23,400 for clerks, $27,400 for deputy sheriffs and $28,400 for administrative assistants.

Council approval required for deals to take effect

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.