St. Clair Township employees unhappy with board decision contract

News-DemocratMarch 6, 2014 

The St. Clair Township Board voted 3-2 on Wednesday to implement parts of its final offer to six sewer and clerical union workers.

Supervisor Dave Barnes said contract negotiations with a federal mediator reached an impasse. The board, however, is open to looking at another offer employees said they submitted to a federal mediator on Tuesday, he said.

Barnes and Trustees Mary Carroll and Keith Sturgis voted to implement starting March 17 parts of the township's final offer to the union.

About 40 residents and employees attended the meeting and most opposed cuts to employee benefits. After listening to their remarks, the board discussed the contract in executive session.

The board did not release details of the plan at the special meeting. Instead, the township will mail letters explaining the changes to employees.

Trustees Greg Hipskind and Jaynie Wells voted no.

Hipskind said before executive session that the township is not in financial distress and there is no need to cut employees' benefits.

The International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 148, employees say they are unhappy with the board's decision to implement a contract the union has rejected as unfair.

The employees object to cuts to their health care and other benefits. The contract also includes pay increases for the three male sewer employees and no increases for three female clerical workers.

Still, shop steward Jeff Carmack said he and others will show up to work today.

"We can't strike, but nor do we want to," said Carmack, a township sewer employee of 15 years.

Carmack said he hopes trustees will take a look at the union's new offer because it includes a lot of what the township wants to implement.

One major point of contention is the reduction of health care premium benefits.

The past contract, in effect from May 12, 2009, to Dec. 31, covered full premiums for employees and dependents.

Carmack said workers are willing to 10 percent of premiums for themselves and dependents the first year of the contract, 15 percent the second year and 20 percent the third year.

The township wants workers to pay 20 percent, 25 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Regarding wages, clerical workers get paid $26.25 an hour. The township wants to keep their pay the same, but the union wants the clerical workers to get the same pay increases as the sewer workers.

The proposed hourly pay for sewer workers are as follows: $26.25 the first year, $26.65 the second year and then $27.15.

Clerical worker Susan Gruberman said she other clerical workers don't work outside like the sewer guys, but the women still work hard and deserve equal pay.

"I maintain the website, do payroll, human resources, budgeting, the actuarial evaluation every year," Gruberman said. "We maintain the continuity. We are the ones teaching Dave Barnes and the other officials how to do their jobs -- they just got elected."

Sturgis said the cuts are not a personal attack on employees, but meant to bring benefits in line with what is offered to workers in the area and represent taxpayers.

Gruberman said the township does not have any financial difficulty.

The township's total budget is $3.3 million, with the sewer fund being the bulk and having $759,000 of revenue over disbursements last year.

And, more importantly, Gruberman said the Local 148 workers get paid from sewer revenue and not tax revenue.

Sturgis said the sewer fund may have a $1 million surplus, but the money is tied to future obligations related to sewer service in Belleville and Swansea.

Steve Joyce, a business manager for Local 148, said township officials did not mention any financial constraints during negotiations. Instead, the changes are politically motivated.

The six workers unionized after the 2009 election but before the new board took office.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at

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