Collinsville – IBEW Local 309 in Collinsville is going to bat for a small group of office workers – three to be exact.
The union for many years has represented the 12 electrical workers of Clinton County Electric Cooperative, based in Breese, providing competitive wages, benefits and job security.
During that time, the three women who work in the co-op’s office have had a friendly relationship with the union. They’ve received about the same pay and benefits as the 12 men, without actually being in the union.
But this year, the co-op board started talking about changing the clerks’ health coverage, so the clerks asked the union to take them in as a new bargaining unit. Local 309 leaders were glad to oblige, thinking it would be a smooth transition.
It’s been anything but that, Local 309 Business Manager Tim Evans told the Labor-Tribune.
“It’s been contentious since minute one,” he said. “They brought in an anti-union lawyer for three ladies. It should have been a one-meeting contract.”
Instead, the union and the co-op’s all-male, nine-member board have had eight contentious meetings, full of disagreement on wages and benefits, without settling on a first contract.
“There was a big gap in the wages,” Evans said. “They offered them zero raises for four years, and we said no. They are coming after these workers with a vengeance.”
Assistant business managers Steve Duft and Chris Hankins have been working with the clerks. The union filed two charges of unfair labor practice, and the initial decisions came back in the workers’ favor. One would give the clerks a 2.5 percent raise retroactive to July 1.
Now it’s up to the board to agree to terms or take it to court.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE, RUN FOR THE BOARD
Evans would like to see some community involvement. “It’s an elected board out there,” he said. “If you get your power from the Clinton County Co-op, contact your board and consider running for the board. There are open positions every year.”
The clerks have their families on the health policy and have appreciated the stability in their wages and benefits, he said. They are well-known and liked in the community and handle the Co-op’s dealings with the public. They can’t go on strike because they don’t have a bargaining unit yet.
The 12 linemen are in the first year of a three-year contract and strongly support the clerks, Evans noted.
“We didn’t think we’d get to this point, but they’ve taken a different stance here,” he said. “Why such a push-back against the ladies trying to join the union? How much are they spending here, fighting something the workers wanted?”
MORE DUTIES THAN MOST
In a letter to the board, the clerks pointed out that because the cooperative has such a small staff, the variety of duties the clerks must carry out is truly wide, and worthy of maintaining the compensation level they now receive – and that board members may not understand this.
“Many office duties handled by management at other cooperatives are handled by us, the hourly office employees,” they wrote. “One would be hard-pressed to find an employee at another electric cooperative with the wide array of knowledge we must possess. Therefore, you will find our job descriptions are much broader than most electric cooperative employees when making comparisons.”
The clerks offered to provide a comparison of wages and duties between cooperatives.
“We are confident you will find our salaries are not out of line with those who have comparable job duties (and oftentimes less responsibilities) in the same industry,” they said in the letter. “We provide great value to the cooperative in the work we do for management and in the high level of service we provide to members.
“Have you calculated the miniscule effect the requested salary increases would have on members’ monthly bills? We’re confident you’ll find it to be pennies a month and a value given our skills, our commitment, and the high level of service we provide to the members.”