April 19, 2009

County union cuts pay, saves some jobs

Staff writer
 

In an effort to save jobs, a Spokane County union this week voted to cut its hours by almost 15 percent.

The reductions affect about 35 building and planning department employees.

The decision will save nine or 10 jobs, said county spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter.

Gordon Smith, staff representative for Local 1553 of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, said a supermajority of affected workers voted in favor of the reduction. Almost all of those whose hours were cut are members of 1553.

He said the vote is proof that union workers will work with leaders to prevent service reductions and layoffs if treated fairly.

“They stepped up to the plate,” Smith said.

The agreement lowers employees’ weekly hours from 37 ½ to 32. That will create a four-day workweek with Fridays off, Smith said. Medical benefits will not be affected.

The continuing slump in construction caused county leaders to ask union leaders to consider concessions within the department, which gets its revenues from building and development fees.

Several building and planning employees were laid off last year.

Smith said the union agreed to the cuts because managers were able to prove that the “budget problems are undeniably real” and were willing to accept similar concessions. The county also agreed to return to the previous work schedule if finances improve.

Wheatley-Billeter said the hours reduction will start May 4. Officials are working to determine how the cuts will affect the department’s services.


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