Luzerne County union contract approved over objections about public notice

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Urban -

Amid criticism that details were not publicly disclosed in advance, Luzerne County Council approved a new collective bargaining agreement with the 113-member AFSCME court-related union Tuesday.

The union covers 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.

According to a summary released after the vote, the workers will receive 2 percent raises this year, 2.5 percent in both 2019 and 2020 and 2.75 percent in 2021, which is the final year of the agreement.

Approximately 18 workers in the district attorney’s office also will receive an additional one-time $300 base salary increase this year because they have assumed additional duties and responsibilities, the administration said.

Starting salaries will increase $250 in 2018, $300 in 2019, $250 in 2020 and $350 in 2021.

The current starting salaries vary by position. For example, entry-level clerks and receptionists start at $23,400 while new deputy sheriffs receive $27,400.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban was the lone vote against the contract. Repeating an objection he raised when three human service union agreements were recently approved, Urban said the public was in the dark on the proposal.

The solicitor’s office said proposed union contracts can’t be released because the county is still technically in negotiation before council approval.

Urban, who served as a county commissioner for 12 years before the 2012 switch to home rule, said union contracts were always released before commissioner votes without objection from solicitors at that time. Contract negotiations are now handled by the administration, with council only voting for or against its final proposal, he said.

Assistant Solicitor Shannon Crake said her office stands by its decision, noting contract negotiations would continue if council rejects a proposed agreement.

Citizen Brian Shiner demonstrated his disagreement by standing silently at the podium for an extended pause, saying he wants to comment on the union contract but cannot because he has no information to review.

The post-vote summary said health insurance contributions were unchanged because this union already was at the highest percentage among county employees. Workers hired before May 1, 2013, pay 12 percent toward insurance, while those hired after that date pay 15 percent.

Also unchanged is a $600 annual uniform allowance for sheriff deputies, although the new contract allows deputies to use a portion of this money to buy up to 100 rounds of ammunition annually.

The new contract also acknowledged the district attorney’s right to hire, discharge and discipline employees in that office and added an annual $250 stipend for a deputy sheriff who complies with a request to obtain Spanish language proficiency certification, perform bilingual services and maintain certification.

Court-related workers hired before 2016 will continue to receive annual longevity bonuses ranging from $200 for 10 to 14 years of service to $1,100 for 30 or more years. In addition to 12 paid holidays, five personal days and vacation days based on years of service, the union’s workers receive 10 to 17 sick days depending on their hire date, a contract review shows.

Budget-tracking idea

In other business, four council members provided the votes necessary to introduce an ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck that prompted strong criticism from county Manager C. David Pedri.

The ordinance would require segregated budget tracking of all contracts or obligations that would cost the county more than $25,000 in one year or $75,000 in two or more years.

Pedri said the work involved with the additional requirement would slow down government, and he expressed concerns the move would interfere with the manager’s freedom under home rule to execute contracts each year as long as they don’t exceed budgeted funds.

McClosky Houck said the ordinance would provide warranted itemizing of pots of money in the budget and does not impede the manager’s ability to approve contracts.

Council members Edward Brominski, Harry Haas and Urban also supported the ordinance introduction, which means it will advance to a public hearing and a final vote. The seven other council members voted against the introduction.

Marc Dixon also was appointed to a required Republican citizen seat on the county ethics commission Tuesday.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes


The first of four public guided tours of the newly renovated Luzerne County Courthouse was held Tuesday night.

The remaining tours start in the rotunda at these times and dates: noon April 13; and 6 p.m. April 19 and 23. A grand reopening ceremony is slated for 6 p.m. May 3, with more details to follow.

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

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