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
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.”