Jefferson County Puts Paid Holidays On Chopping Block

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By Fanna Haile-Selassie
By Jared Roberts

MT. VERNON -- Budget troubles in Jefferson County could make for some tense re-negotiation talks with union employees. The loss of federal immigration detainees at the Jefferson County Detention Center a year and a half ago is still causing financial problems.

"We're on course to finish out the year in balance, but that's considering the fact we took $380,000 from public safety that we intend to pay back," says County Board Chair Robert White.
 
He says the county has made a lot of cuts in the past couple of years to help right the budget, and it's reached its limit in cuts it can make without laying off people or reducing work hours. So now, board members hope they can work a deal with union members before November.
 
"We've got an employee that's got close to 40 years of service, they get 40 vacation days a year," explains White. "So 40 vacation days, 15 paid holidays, three personal days, and on top of that, they get 12 sick days."
 
White has proposed to reduce the amount of paid vacation days by four, eliminating Good Friday, Black Friday, Columbus Day, and either Lincoln's birthday or President's day. He also wants to even out the county's contribution to employee health insurance.
 
"What we want to offer is $550-a-month flat contribution to all employees. The net affect would be a $105 contribution from them that would be a pre-taxed payroll deduction."
 
That would mean some union employees could see an $80-a-month increase on their end. But White says the alternative would be worse.
 
If contract negotiations fail, White says they'll have to look at cutting employee positions, which could mean the end of 24-hour patrol services for the county or the closure of their 10-year-old jail facility, which isn't even paid off yet. AFSCME members could also see their hours reduced to 36 hours a week.
  
Current union contracts expire at the end of November. We contacted AFSCME officials, but they said they don't comment on contract negotiations.
 
The spokesperson for the police and corrections union says workers are already paid less than others in the region and he will not recommend employees agree to a deal that reduces their benefits.
 
 
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