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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, December 04, 2006

Northampton County Employees Speak Out For Living Wage

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNorthampton County's biggest mistake in recent years has been to exalt buildings over the people who work in them. Its new courthouse and prison expansions provide no services. Those come from the people who work there. Yet to pay for these projects, erstwhile county Exec Reibman sent forty courthouse workers home in February 2004. When the dust had settled, over 100 positions had been eliminated. Employees responded by unionizing.

Northampton County's "residual unit" is a collection of around 250 or so employees who mostly consist of the row office, 911 and maintenance workers. In the three years since they've organized as an AFSCME union, there has been no contract. And these people are all suffering as a result.

You see, these folks are already at the bottom of the Northampton County payscale. A few years ago, four long-term employees qualified for home heating assistance. A few even qualified for food stamps. That situation has only grown worse because there have been no wage increases for nearly four years. Wal-mart is routinely criticized because its wages are so bad that employees must turn to public assistance, but that same criticism applies to Northampton County, a public employer.

Starting today, county employees will make their voices heard. An open letter to county Executive John Stoffa, in poster form, will be exhibited near the rotunda. Employees will be encouraged to sign that letter. Here's their letter.

We are writing to set the record straight on the commitments you made during your election campaign and to express our views on your handling of our contract negotiations.

In your open letter to County employees of August 1, 2006 you claimed that you never promised voluntary interest arbitration for the Residual Unit. We beg to differ. On September 7, 2005 you and your opponent met with leaders from four AFSCME Local Unions and four of the newly organized AFSCME units. At that meeting you agreed to extend voluntary binding arbitration to the Residual Unit. At a meeting on October 5, 2005 you were invited and appeared at a mass meeting of employees in the five newly organized units. This time, over one hundred and fifty employees heard you say firsthand that you were in favor of voluntary interest arbitration for the Residual Unit.

Based on your assurances, AFSCME contacted over 2,000 of its members in Northampton County and recommended they and their family members vote for you in the November General Election. You won that election by 2,070 votes out of 40,506 votes cast.

This summer, the County's 2006 unreserved fund balance stood at around 35 million dollars. New managers in your administration are being hired near the top of the management pay scale while senior rank and file employees remain on the lower rungs of their pay scale! The entire cost of AFSCME's first year wage proposal, including the cost of correcting these inequities, is approximately 1.5 million dollars. Yet despite your campaign rhetoric, you propose as two year freeze on our wages.

We demand fairness, we demand equity, and we demand them NOW.
In fairness to County Executive Stoffa, he's always been honest with me. He denies making these promises. "I never promised this group I would go to arbitration. Why would I give up this right?" I can think of one reason. It's the right thing to do. In fact, why is binding arbitration even necessary? It appears that the union is only asking for what is fair - a living wage.


Anonymous said...

I also believe that Stoffa is not telling a lie. However, I really think we will see the rebirth of the unions. Especially since inflation is running a sprint and the minimum wage legislation is still in the starting blocks.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Disregard for the county's rank and file employes has now reached crisis level. Morale was very bad at the end of Reibman's tenure. But it is now worse. I don't blame Stoffa. He inherited this mess. But county employees do. And this should be the county's first priority - it should be ahead of building projects, the judges' perks, cabinet officials and their perks, open space projects, roads in Bethlehem and Wind Gap, courthouse security and is even more important than the decision to block my blog.

And these employees really are suffering. Many of them are in borderline poverty situations while a high-priced caterer now serves lunch.

If the county fails to rectify this situation soon, it will face its first strike.

Anonymous said...

to be fair, i hear many of the delay issues reside not with stoffa but the leadership of afscme.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bernie,

This is ScoobTwo from Mcall. Thank you for the quote of the day! The facist mcall moderators take great please in singling me out and "killing me". I am the original Scrappy but they have killed me so many times I don't know who I am anymore. Thanks again. Have a nice day

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 12:35, You may be right. I certainly am not close enough to negotiations to make that kind of assessments. The only thing I can tell you with certainty is that there are victims, around 250 of them, who need to be treated more fairly. That is not happening.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Scrappy, 'Twas my pleasure to give you a shout out.

Anonymous said...

You may not fault the pious John Stoffa, but I do: He was an early pitchman for a Las Vegas Sands slot machine gambling casino annex in South Bethlehem.

And he nominated Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce VP Marta Boulos Gabriel as county administrator to succeed the incorrigibly corrupt Jim Hickey - whom PA Gov. Ed "Fast Eddie" Rendell plucked from Northampton County hell" in a "political passion" that transported him to "Harrisburg Heaven with dominion over all of the commonwealth's real estate.

This exalted position Hickey to influence the selection of sites for casinos, not just in Northampton County but Philadelphia as well.

Fast Eddie levitated Bethleham and Easton mayors Don Cunningham and Tom Goldsmith to Heaven on the Susquehanna, the "mansion with many rooms, shortly afterward.

The corporal, real-life incarnation of Robert Penn Warren's Willie Stark put Cunningham in charge of all state procurement, including 61,00q slot manchine.

And Goldsmith, a connoisseur of chardonnay, whom Willie put on the Liquor Control Board where he could soak up the profits, sell liquor licenses, and help influence who got licenses and to lift the restrictions on the number of alcoholic drinks the casinos could serve.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 3:03, aka Billy Givens,

This is not about John Stoffa, Marta Gabriel, Rendell, Goldsmith or casinos. This is about VERY REAL people who are suffering daily because of the lousy wages paid to them. I wrote than many long-term "residual" employes qualify for some forms of assistance, and today confirmed that several residual employees are, in fact, on food stamps.

I really hope that county and union can resolve this problem as soon as possible.

LVDem said...

Nice to see that Billy Givens is back to his old ranting self. I think he just blamed Don Cunningham for Northampton County's labor problems. Or did he say nothing at all. I'm confused. This is why I drink.

Anonymous said...

Afscme is not to blame for not having a contract signed. They have no agenda, workers are not paying union dues. Don't you think they want the contract signed so they can begin recooping money for all the time, supplies, meeting rooms etc. that they, the union, has paid for? What the County should do is fire the Allentown attorneys who are negotiating and get back to business. Many, many tentative agreements were signed when talk at the table with Dan Polanski and especially with Drew Lewis occurred. Since the county hired the team of outside lawyers, who get paid BIG money to sit at the table with the negotiating team, talks broke down. Why not, they are getting paid every hour they are sitting at the table negotiating. We have county solicitors who could look over agreement before they are signed. Here is one place Mr. Stoffa, that you can save a lot of money!Let's get to the table, every day if we have to or every night whatever, but LET'S TALK!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 7:43, It's good to see that you're flexible. It's better for the worker if the union is not stuck in one position. Get it done.