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Yellowstone County workers considering 'strike assessment'

No immediate labor stoppage on horizon
Posted at 9:08 PM, Oct 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-06 19:49:08-04

About 130 unionized Yellowstone County courthouse employees have been working without a contract since July 1.

Union leadership met with workers for a strike assessment on Tuesday.

The Montana Federation Of Public Employees (MFPE) conducted the strike assessment to determine what its members want to do if they can't reach an agreement on a new contract.

All was business as normal Tuesday inside the Yellowstone County courthouse, but a strike could be looming.

At its core: a dispute between county leaders and courthouse employees over wages. Specifically, the money offered to new employees.

"For an employer to just bring in a new hire at 2,3,6 10 dollars more an hour than someone who's been working here for six years or for 16 or 26 years is a conversation that needs to be had between labor and management," said Amanda Curtis, MFPE president.

Curtis said the union would accept that part of a package proposal.

(Editor’s Note (Oct. 6): Dwight Vigness, the human resources director for Yellowstone County, disputes the union’s claim that new hires are being offered higher wages than employees who have been on the job for at least six years. MTN has asked the Montana Federation of Public Employees to provide documentation supporting Curtis' claim, but at this point it has not been provided.)

The union believes the county is violating the collective bargaining agreement and has filed several unfair labor practice complaints.

The outcome is yet to be determined by the board of personnel appeals.

In the meantime, the union Tuesday met with its 130 courthouse employees to gauge the appetite for a strike should state assistant mediation fail.

Curtis says assessments like this are rare.

"This is very unusual occurrence because almost every time that our 260-plus locals bargain with their management," Curtis said. "They come to an agreement and sign a contract usually within a fairly short amount of time because union is a partnership with labor and with management."

Courthouse employees are members of the MFPE and include legal assistants, workers in the elections office and title registration and sheriff's office clerks.

Q2 reached out to Commissioner John Ostlund who is on the county's negotiating team.

He declined comment, saying it would not be fair for him to say anything before the two sides meet next on Oct.11 for a third round of mediation.

"There's just one piece of language that represents respect for the employees and for their union, and neither side is willing to budge," Curtis said.

More information is in the commissioners' Oct. 4 agenda.