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Yellowstone County courthouse employees hold informational picket

County working on new contract
Courthouse picket.jpg
Posted at 11:05 PM, Oct 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-20 08:15:04-04

BILLINGS - Yellowstone County courthouse employees held an informational picket on contract negotiations Wednesday evening.

They're concerned about beginning wages and management rights.

"We're just wanting to educate the community of the kind of the battle we've been having during negotiations," said Katie Cosby, a county employee and Montana Federation Of Public Employees (MFPE) local president.

The employees have been holding other informational pickets this week from noon to 2 p.m.

Cosby says negotiations started in March and more than 120 have been working without a contract since July.

The county has an update on pages 233-251 of the commissioners' Oct. 18 agenda packet.

MFPE held a strike assessmentearlier this month and determined overwhelmingly the members would be willing to strike.

That doesn't mean a strike is imminent. The next step would be strike authorization, where union workers vote on whether to authorize labor negotiators to call for workers to walk off the job.

The issues for the county: flexibility on offers to potential new employees and wages for everyone.

One wage proposal would raise the starting rate for one group of workers from more than $13 an hour to more than $15 an hour.

"Which sounds great," Cosby said. "Except they only wanted to bring those who were below it up to the same amount. So it didn't matter how many years you had been here, you're all going to just be paid the same amount."

"We had recruited higher than some existing employees only after MFPE turned down increasing the existing folks," said Dwight Vigness, Yellowstone County human resources director.

Vigness says the county offered to raise the wages for the lowest-paid employees earlier this year, knowing it would raise it for everyone else during negotiations.

The county wants to offer higher wages to new workers to help with the labor shortage.

"We even have language in there that we'd send our requests and our justification to the union president," Vigness said.

"The biggest thing is going to be that language as far as hiring especially because they get to set those wages we don't even get a say," Cosby said.

The union says wages need to be higher in later years to retain employees, while the county wants to offer wages to recruit new employees.

Another possible conflict is the pay period.

Currently, employees get paid twice a month around the 7th and 23rd and the union has talked about changing that to every other Friday.

The next mediation is set for Monday, Oct. 24.