Northampton County former union workers lose bid for retroactive raise

 

Northampton County Council reversed its own decision of a month ago and will give retroactive raises to 64 court employees.

In August, the council split 4-4 on giving the probation, pretrial services, domestic relations and court-reporting workers 2% raises effective Jan. 27, instead of the July 28 date set by the county administration. The workers gave up union representation in January, but only got the 2% raise that non-union county workers received all year when new pay scales were approved in July.

The retroactive pay will cost the county about $70,000 total.

Matthew Dietz, who brought the resolution up for reconsideration, voted in favor, as did John Cusick, Margaret Ferraro, Robert Werner and Council President Ronald Heckman. Dietz missed the August vote, leading to the 4-4 split. Lori Vargo Heffner, Kevin Lott, William McGee and Tara Zrinski voted against retroactive pay.

Dietz's tie-breaking vote was the only change; the other eight members voted as they did last month. The nine-member council needs a majority of five to approve resolutions.

McGee said it is unprecedented for the council to reverse a resolution, but solicitor Chris Spadoni said it has broad authority to approve resolutions and legislation.

"They took a chance," Lott, a union supporter, said of the workers who gave up their union representation. "They are going to have to live with that chance."

That was before the vote in favor of giving retroactive raises.

Lott and Zrinski said the council was undermining County Executive Lamont McClure's bargaining power by stepping into pay negotiations.

"They felt that they would get a better deal by leaving the union," Zrinski said of the workers, and when that did not work out, they sought the retroactive pay.

Ferraro said "it's only fair" to award the raises dating back to when the workers left the union. They are only receiving what other non-union workers were paid, she said.

Vargo Heffner, who voted against retroactive pay, said the idea that the workers were being punished for leaving their union is false because they did get a raise, even if it was not as much as they had sought.

"This is a bad path this council is going down," McGee said of the quick reversal.

After the meeting, McClure said the council has the final say on money matters, so the retroactive raise will be paid.

The council also heard a presentation from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission about its draft 25-year plan for regional development and transportation. McClure has criticized some elements of the plan and the commission's allocation of money to the county. He said there has been progress in meeting his concerns.

"They've been working with us closely," McClure said of the LVPC. "They're not there yet."

The county executive has suggested that if funding for Northampton County is considerably less than that given to Lehigh County, Northampton should consider cutting its annual payment to the commission.

That issue was also raised by the council.

"Northampton County is getting less than half of the money," Lott said. "We need more equity."

Heckman said rapid growth has changed the region for the worse.

"Every hour is rush hour" and big trucks going to and from warehouses are clogging up small roads, not just the main routes, he said. He said the region and its municipalities should demand more from developers.

Werner also said that the big warehouses create demands on local roads, and that companies should be made to pay more for improvements.

Tatamy Borough Mayor Chris Moren asked the council for help in securing the site of a bridge connecting Bushkill Street to Bushkill Drive. In April, the bridge was partially demolished, and a new bridge was to be constructed within six weeks. That never happened because of a dispute between the contractor and the county's General Purpose Authority, which is independent of county government.

"We understand that the bridge isn't going to get done this year," he said.

The construction site is not safe or secure, he said, and the borough needs help to keep people from venturing into the area.