New contract approved for AFSCME
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) concessions will save Gracedale Nursing Home money and reduce Northampton County's contribution to Gracedale's 2012 operating budget. Recently ratified by union members, the new four-year contract was approved by an 8-1 vote at Northampton County Council's Aug. 16 meeting.
While the county projects the savings achieved by the union's givebacks to be between $2 million and $2.5 million annually, AFSCME representative Justus James believes the savings will exceed $3 million annually. As part of reducing Gracedale's budget shortfall last year, Gracedale's union members promised to make these concessions if the nursing home was not privatized by the county.
Whichever amount is used, county Director of Human Services Ross Marcus told council that the county's 2012 contribution is expected to be closer $4.2 million rather than the $6 million originally budgeted.
James said it was a hard-fought negotiation, but to keep Gracedale in county hands the employees agreed to give up their 30-minute paid lunch and change their work schedule to a 7.5 hour work day or a 75-hour work period, which will result in overtime savings. Other concessions included elimination of the Presidents' Day holiday and receiving double time rather than double time and a half for working a holiday.
More importantly, a wage freeze is in effect for 2012 with 3 percent cost-of-living adjustments (COLAS) in effect for the remainder of the contract, which expires in 2015.
As of January 2013, healthcare cost containment will allow the county to make changes to the employees' health plan design based on increases resulting from the Affordable Care Act.
While Councilman Tom Dietrich approved the contract terms, he took issue with the inclusion of a successor clause as sending the message that the county was not firmly committed to making sure Gracedale remained county-owned in the future.
But Councilman Ken Kraft, who helps to negotiate union contracts, said the successor clause was a protection to current union employees that if Gracedale's owners or management changed the contract would remain in effect.
Saying that he found it amazing, Kraft added that under this contract each Gracedale union member tract each Gracedale union member was giving back between $50 and $60 per paycheck.
While the majority of council members expressed their appreciation for the union's concessions and efforts to establish more harmonious relations, Councilwoman Barbara Thierry, the single opposed vote, said, "This contract does nothing to alleviate the tax burden on taxpayers of Northampton County."
Council's next meeting is 6:30 p.m., Sept. 6 on the third floor of Northampton County Courthouse, 669 Washington St., Easton.