Sunday, October 28, 2012


By Matthew Dutton

The audience at this month’s Knox County Board meeting was dominated by outraged, upset and furious union employees lashing out against, what they saw as anti-union measures proposed by the county board.
The county board has proposed a number of actions against certain public servants, including  those working in the States Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office and the Knox County Nursing Home. The contractual proposals include stripping any chance of raises for the next two years, taking away any longevity pay and wellness bonuses, and initiating a two-tier vacation system.   Most troubling of all, the new measures would increase health insurance premiums an extra hundred dollars per month, causing many to lose their insurance entirely. 

The dispute has been ongoing for an entire year, and the board has adamantly refused to negotiate. Only one board member has set foot in the nursing home since the controversy arose, and no members have been willing to discuss the measures. Instead, the county board hired a $75,000 private attorney to handle the matter. 

The judge presiding over the meeting admitted to having once been a resident of the Knox County Nursing Home, yet the board members had no reaction to this statement. “It would behoove the citizens of this county for the board to sit down for negotiations,” said Randy Lynch, Staff Representative for Council 31 of the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). “I am doing everything I can to get an agreement. Strike is always the union’s last option.” Lynch cites the cause of the issue as “the current climate of the economy. The board is taking advantage of that.”

The hour prior to the board meeting saw over 100 union employees picketing the front of the courthouse; making their resentment for the county board known to anyone crossing the line.
When the meeting began, many of the picketers crammed into the small courtroom, all coming together to voice their despair to the judge and the board. 

One speaker noted that the $75,000 the county paid to enlist the aid of a private attorney, could have actually paid for the union’s requests in the first place; resolving any dispute preemptively. This warranted a roaring reception from crowd, followed by silence from the board. “Nobody is asking for a raise,” said another nursing home employee. “The last two raises were stripped away from us. We just want things to stay the way they are.”

A single mother made note of the fact most will lose their insurance as a result of the overwhelming spike in premium rates. “We will work 40 hours per week and still not be able to go to the doctor,” she said. “This will hurt my daughter more than anything else.”

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