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Rock County’s biggest union settles 2006 contract

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ANN MARIE AMES
January 11, 2008
— The employees in Rock County’s largest union have worked two years without a contract but this morning have a contract for 2006.

The Rock County Board on Thursday night ratified the 2006 contract for the AFSCME Local 2489, which represents secretaries, child support staff, telecommunicators, correctional officers and other support staff.


This afternoon, negotiators will get to work on Local 2489’s contracts for 2007, 2008 and 2009.


Dale Bryant, the union’s new president, said he’s optimistic.


“I’m going into these negotiations with a positive attitude,” Bryant said. “I’ve been in other unions that, when that contract comes up, you get that feeling, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be a fight. What are we going to lose?’”


The challenge for Local 2489, Bryant said, is the variety of employees represented. Some are on call 24/7, while others work strictly office hours. Finding common ground isn’t easy, said Bryant, a correctional officer at the Rock County Jail.


Of Rock County’s 1,200 employees, only 200 are not union members. The rest are split into 10 unions—one with only five members.


That’s a lot of negotiating, said John Becker, Rock County’s human resources director. The county has a different bargaining team for each union, he said.


So far, the county has settled contracts for 2007 and beyond with three unions that represent the nurses, social workers, therapists, probation officers and others at Rock Haven and human services.


The rest of the unions’ contracts expired in December 2006, Becker said. He expects them to settle in the next few months.


The delay hasn’t been because of a fight, Becker said. It’s taken time for union representatives to read through proposed changes to the county’s health benefits.


The plan is moving to a stronger emphasis on wellness, he said.


Linda Graf agreed that the change took time and education. Graf, a juvenile parole officer, is president of AMHS-Rock Haven and AMHS-Human Services, two of the unions with settled contracts.


“Our union was one of the first to ratify that change,” Graf said. “That was probably the most difficult for my members to get their heads around and understand. It’s just a big change for people.”


It’s common for public employees to be union members, Becker said.


“Government is very highly unionized, especially in Wisconsin,” Becker said. “When you read about union membership decreasing, it’s true in the private sector but not in the public sector.”


The rule of thumb is that management is not unionized, Becker said. Department heads, elected officials, executive secretaries and the sheriff, his commander and chief deputies are not union members.



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