Probation union leader talks about contract negotiations
When St. Clair County’s probation officers, who keep watch over potentially dangerous defendants, formed their union and settled on their first contract, they knew they would be negotiating again in several months.
Those negotiations have not produced a second contract with 20th Judicial Circuit, which includes St. Clair County, and it could lead to a strike as soon as Thursday.
“We think it’s going to be extremely dangerous,” said Paul Sullivan, president of the union. “We don’t think it’s in the interest of anybody in our communities for us to be out on strike. You’re going to have those 1,000 violent defendants I’m speaking of; they will not be supervised.”
The union last week filed an intent to strike with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, after it voted unanimously to do so. The soonest a strike would begin is Thursday, especially if a scheduled mediation session Wednesday does not go well.
In order to avoid a strike, the union has offered to go into binding arbitration, but Sullivan said the union has been rebuffed.
Employees in the St. Clair County Probation Department formed their union in 2015. Eventually it led to a one-year contract agreement with the county that was signed in June 2016.
The deal included language on pay and an ammunition allowance, according to county board minutes.
The one-year contract, which ran through December, was meant to push off some of the main issues for a year, as union members wanted to get under contract for the first time, said Sullivan, a probation department supervisor and the president of the union representing 50 probation officers, supervisors and support staff in St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph, Washington and Perry counties.
“We formed because we had no representation whatsoever,” Sullivan said. “We’re ignored on all our concerns, caseload sizes. There were financial issues. We were one of the lowest compensated officers, especially compared to the other counties.”
Among the issues that are a concern to the union is comparable pay.
The 2016 median annual pay, not including benefits, for a St. Clair County probation employee was $44,456.82, according to county documents.
In Madison County, the median pay for a probation department employee was $67,830.18, according to county documents.
We can’t really even discuss financial issues until we actually receive the information we requested that they’re required by law that show the financials on the other side. We’ve been requesting financial information since October 2016, and a lot of that same information we still haven’t received.
Paul Sullivan, president of the Illinois Federation of Public Employees Local 4408
“We can’t approach those numbers. We can’t approach that in one contract, we’re not asking that,” Sullivan said. “We’re just asking to take a step forward, so we don’t fall further behind. We want that to be addressed going forward, so it’s recognized, we are so far behind comparable size.”
County officials have said the state is behind on reimbursements for probation services with the amount reaching $5.6 million, including $793,000 from last fiscal year and this year alone.
The tardiness in payments adds to the difficulty of the negotiations.
For 2017, county employees have received only a 1.5-percent pay bump this year because of the state reimbursement issues, St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said at Monday’s board meeting.
Andrew Gleeson, the 20th Judicial Circuit chief judge, did not wish to comment specifically on the union’s concerns.
“It is the court’s position that it would be improper to negotiate any specific issues pertaining to the collective bargaining agreement publicly while negotiations are ongoing,” Gleeson said in an emailed statement. “The court is working diligently within the framework and fiscal parameters that presently exist to resolve this matter.”
It is the court’s position that it would be improper to negotiate any specific issues pertaining to the collective bargaining agreement publicly while negotiations are ongoing. The Court is working diligently within the framework and fiscal parameters that presently exist to resolve this matter.
Andrew Gleeson, chief judge of the 20th Judicial Circuit, which includes St. Clair County
Sullivan said the main concerns of the union is the understaffing issue.
They are overseeing about 3,000 cases at one time. Of those, 1,500 to 1,600 are actively being supervised. About 1,000 of the cases are medium-to-high risk, violent defendants, such as people with gun charges or domestic battery charges, Sullivan said.
The average case load is 140 to 145 per officer. Some have case loads of 150 to 160, Sullivan has said.
The state’s Administrative Office of Illinois Courts recommends the case load for offenders needing maximum supervision be 50 cases for every probation officer. Those officers who have offenders who need moderate supervision should have a caseload ratio of 120 to 1, according to the state supreme court’s recommendations.
In order to meet the correct ratios recommended by the state supreme court, the county would need to hire 10 to 11 additional probation officers, Sullivan said, adding the county won’t even consider it.
During negotiations last year, the union tried to discuss four to six additional officers, but the county was unwilling to make that move, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said in preparation for this latest round of negotiations, the union began requesting information from the county.
Among the financial information they have asked for but not received is what happened to nearly $700,000 in probation fees, Sullivan said.
“We can’t really even discuss financial issues until we actually receive the information we requested that they’re required by law that show the financials on the other side,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been requesting financial information since October 2016, and a lot of that same information we still haven’t received.”