BUTLER COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - Workers at the Butler County Children Services lined up outside the agency Monday morning, picketing with signs as they begin a strike over a wage dispute with the county.
Last minute negotiations fell through on Sunday after 14 months of talks between the union and the county, and more than 120 workers are now able to strike. Workers arrived to picket Monday at 7:30 a.m.
To handle the caseload the agency sees, officials say they'll use around 30 of their administrative staff, 16 people hired at a job fair last week to fill already vacant spots, help from outside agencies and 40 temporary workers that will prioritize cases.
"The hope was that bringing in a federal mediator would help the two sides bridge the gap between them. Unfortunately, that proved unsuccessful," said Charles Young, Butler County Administrator.
That was Sunday's last ditch effort to keep those workers from possibly walking off the job.
"We had three years previously where our wages were frozen, steps were frozen, since 2012," said Union President Rebecca Palmer.
The county wants to move from what they call "unsustainable" step increases, and shift to a performance-based pay system, something 10 of 11 county unions have already accepted.
"A $500 lump sum the first year. $550 the second year, and $550 the third year with the third year also the potential for a re-opener to have discussions about performance pay," said Young.
When negotiations started, union reps tell FOX19 they were asking for a 3.5 percent increase. After hiring a factfinder, that was scaled back to increases between 1.5 percent and 2 percent over three years, including a step increase. Union reps say both they and the county looked into comparable pay rates of surrounding counties.
"We used the same counties and found that our wages were anywhere from 9 to 12 percent under the market," said Palmer.
The union's latest offer is a lump sum in the first year of the contract, a wage increase in the second year and to use the county's merit-based pay system in year three, all while continuing step increase freezes.
"We want to give the best quality, and give them their money's worth - the taxpayers their money's worth," Palmer told FOX19.
Both sides do agree on one thing, and that's coming to the table and continuing talks and negotiations, though there is no timetable just yet.