A coterie of Northampton County corrections officers, festooned in green AFSCME T-shirts, was at Northampton County Council last night to seek hazard pay. AFSCME Staff Representative Bryan Dayoc, who spoke on their behalf, stated officers ore subjected to verbal and physical assault, being spit on, and having feces thrown at them. In addition, they are subjected to Covid-19 exposure. He noted they are 23 officers short. "It is hard to find applicants that will do the job for the low wages they make, compared to other counties," noted this union official.
Dayoc went on to complain that the County administration appears to care more about the staff at Gracedale, where there is hazard pay. "Gracedale is getting extra incentives just to pick up shifts and show up." He wants the county to pay corrections officers with some of the $61 million it is receiving from the American Rescue Plan money.
Council member Peg Ferraro, whose grandson is employed at the jail, asked Executive Lamont McClure to respond to Dayoc. McClure conceded the work done by corrections officers [COs} at the jail has been "fantastic." He noted that the county and COs just agreed to a two-year contract extension in which they are getting raises of about
6.5% 7% over two years. During that extension, there's no increase in payments COs must make for medical coverage. He added the county also just resolved a grievance with the union under which each CO will get $500 and, if fully vaccinated by the end of the year, another $1,000.
Ferraro pressed McClure, noting that employees at one time received step increases every year. McClure said that he is considering restoring more frequent step increases, but at a smaller percentage like 2.5%. He said prior administrations have balked at step increases because they are too large. He said he's been pretty liberal in granting step increases, but "I have to balance the interests of the taxpayers." He said he cares deeply about the COs, and has gone out of his way to get them vaccinated. He said a smaller step increase, which actually has been suggested by AFSCME, "makes it more likely" that employees might see them every year.
McClure denied that the county pays its COs less than other counties. "We look at that all the time," he said, noting "that when you put it all together [salary plus benefits], we're even or a little better than Lehigh County."
In response to a question from Council member Tara Zrinski, McClure noted that COs did receive hazard pay during part of the pandemic. He added that hazard pay is a "management right. It's not even bargainable." He added no specific request has come to him for hazard pay.
Council member Ron Heckman cautioned that Council can listen, but really has no say in contracts that are negotiated with the administration. They could be charged with an unfair labor practice if they do.
In other business, Council voted 8-0 to support a resolution authorizing about $1.8 million to 124 small businesses that had previously applied for mostly $15,000 grants. This will make nearly 1,000 businesses helped by the county during the pandemic. Council President Lori Vargo Heffner said these businesses were vetted and approved last year, "but we ran out of money."
Council member John Cusick questioned three of the grants that went to lawn care companies. He said those were "essential services" and experienced no disruption as a result of the pandemic. Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron said the lawn care companies might be deemed essential, but lost customers who were unable to pay for their services during the pandemic. Cusick was satisfied with that reply.
Council member Kerry Myers was absent from the meeting.