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Union employees, Bureau County Board avert strike with pay raise deal

PRINCETON — County courthouse employees will be getting a pay raise, and will not strike, after a settlement was reached Tuesday.

Members of the Bureau County Board and Teamsters Local 722 Union met behind closed doors for three hours to negotiate a deal. The employees had sought higher wages and raises, and had threatened to strike if they did not get them.

The employees' starting hourly wage, if they are not elected officials, is $10. The board had offered a raise of 35 to 40 cents, but the union had sought a $12 starting hourly wage, and to have current employees' wages changed accordingly.

Union steward Lisa Sims said she could not release the exact amount of the increase until the County Board approves it at its next meeting on Tuesday, June 13. But, while the raise was not what the union asked for, Sims said, it was more than what the county had offered.

Sims, who works in the county assessor's office, said she was "OK" with the outcome, but not happy.

She said it's the largest pay raise offered since 1999, when she was hired.

"We've never done a strike before, and so you just want to take the best offer you can take so that we still have jobs and so that work gets done, because it could be worse after we strike," Sims said. "They could fire us and hire a bunch of new people. That was always on our minds, but we still feel like we are way behind compared to other counties."

Sims said many union members feel they're still underpaid, and a few will have to continue working two jobs to support their families.

"(Our offer) still doesn't put us close in comparison to other counties," she said. "The next highest paying county is Putnam County, and those employees receive $13 an hour and work 40 hours a week. We only work 35 hours a week."

Sims said the union also pushed unsuccessfully to stop new hires from getting the same raises as longtime employees. "Those (newer) employees are slowly going to catch up to us," she said. "That's what we were trying to stop."

While the County Board could still reject the settlement, Sims said it would be a rare outcome because both the Teamsters and the board's negotiating committee agreed they wouldn't want to have to start talks all over again.

"We will find out in June what will happen next," Sims said.

Board Chairman Dale Anderson told the BCR he had no comment on the settlement.

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