August 24, 2018

McHenry County probation department wins first union contract

Employees of McHenry County’s probation department, members of AFSCME Local 1748, signed their first union contract after more than a year of negotiations. The agreement provides real gains in wages, improves benefits and strengthens workplace protections, all enforceable through a grievance process that ends in legally binding arbitration.

“We decided to unionize because we were underpaid compared to other counties,” said Nick Hayes, a probation officer for 10 years at the county. “We felt our wages were unfair, especially because new hires were being paid the same as employees with 10 years of seniority.

“I can confidently say that nobody in this office chose this career to get rich. But we do want to be compensated fairly, to be able to feed our families and go home to live a comfortable life. We want to be able to concentrate on the one job we have and not have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.”

The contract significantly increases starting wages for legal support staff and probation officers, rewards and encourages longevity by increasing base salaries, and raises wages in each year of the contract by 2.75 percent or $0.70 an hour, whichever is greater. Employees can earn additional increases for positive performance reviews. And union members will now have more choices when it comes to their health insurance plans.

“Now that we’re unionized, management respects our voice,” Hayes said. “We might not always agree, but we have a seat at the table.”

The contract also institutes a “just-cause standard” for discipline—meaning management must prove their case to issue discipline, which must be progressive and corrective in nature—as well as a grievance procedure, labor-management meetings and layoff and recall rights.

Led by AFSCME Council 31 Staff Representative Colin Theis, the bargaining team included Wendy Wesolek, Nick Hayes, Ryan Markowski and Connie Olson.

“It’s a high-stress job that you can’t leave at the door when you get home,” Hayes said. “But at the end of the day, our work is motivating. Whether they made a one-time mistake or a lifetime of mistakes, if given the right tools and opportunities the people we help have the power to make positive changes in their lives. It’s inspiring.” 

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