Thursday, September 07, 2000

Engineer staff complains to county

By David Eck
Enquirer Contributor

        ST. CLAIR TOWNSHIP — Fed up with sparring between the Butler County commissioners and County Engineer Dean Foster over a union contract, about two dozen engineer's employees on Tuesday took their case directly to the commissioners.

        At a commission meeting, employees complained that they are caught in the officials' cross-fire. They said they're in limbo while the contract is bogged down in court.

        Commissioners this summer condemned the contract involving 50 engineer's employees as a “sweetheart deal” that contained extraordinarily generous benefits. They went to court and a judge voided the contract. The union has appealed.

In the middle
        Meantime, the employees say they haven't had a pay raise in three years and feel they are casualties of the infighting.

        “It's between Dean Foster and the commissioners, but we're the people getting hurt by this,” said Steve DeBord, a six-year engineer's employee. “Since (Mr. Foster) has been there, he's never given a cost-of-living raise.”

        The employees, who are represented by the Teamsters Union, argued that other county workers have received raises, but they were left out.

        “We wanted to show the commissioners we are voters and they are holding up our wages,” said Daryl Haydon, who has worked at the engineer's office for 16 years. “It's them against Dean, and they're forgetting about us.”

        Though commissioners said they understand the employees' concerns, there was little they could say about the issue because it is in court.

        But Commissioner Michael Fox placed the blame on Mr. Foster.

        “This was driven by a county engineer who was unhappy,” Mr. Fox said. “Mr. Foster put us all in this room tonight. We want this thing to be resolved as quickly as it can be. Dean Foster put us all in this mess.”

        The engineer's office said Mr. Foster was not in Wednesday afternoon and could not be reached.

        Though the commissioners and the union ratified a fact-finder's recommendation on the wage portion of the contract in early June, Mr. Foster and union officials ignored commissioners' requests to see the benefits portion, commissioners have said.

"Outrageous' benefits
        Once they saw them on June 30, commissioners said the negotiated benefits in the contract could cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Some of the benefits the commissioners considered outrageous included a $300 contract-signing bonus for employees, a large increase in the county's payments into the employees' retirement fund, and an extra $5-an-hour overtime pay for an unaccompanied driver in a snow-removal truck.

        Troy Stapleton, business agent for Teamsters Local 100, on Tuesday said the signing bonus and the county paying more into the retirement fund allow the employees to make up what they have lost the last several years.

        “There is nothing sweet about this,” Mr. Stapleton said. “We went for years without wage increases.”

Motives speculated
        The commissioners have claimed Mr. Foster was trying to retaliate against them for criticizing his management style, and against the Republican Party for refusing to endorse him for re-election this year. The party endorsed Greg Wilkins, who has no opponent in the Nov. 7 election.


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