Benton County Union Workers Rally, Demand Fair Contract
A bargaining rally organized by employees of Benton County took place on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 1, in front of the Benton County Courthouse.
The rally was organized by the Benton County chapter (number 2064) of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, which is currently bargaining with Benton County management for a fair contract that provides more of the pay and benefits that other County employees receive. These include higher wages, longevity pay, compensation for exempt workers, recognition of Juneteenth as a holiday, improvements to workplace safety, and county accountability if work environments are unsafe. The union is also urging the county to provide market adjustments and increases retroactive to July 1, 2021, as well as to recognize and provide hazard payments to employees who increased their exposure to COVID-19 to perform their jobs over the last one-and-a-half years.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of bargaining,” said Dawn Dale, President of the 2064 chapter. “We are rallying to let the community know and to let management know that we are united as a team, and that we want to fight for what’s right for our workers.”
According to Dale, there are around 363 members of the AFSCME bargaining unit, the largest of its kind in the county.
“The county has 500-something employees, so the fact that we make up over 300 of those employees shows that we’re a huge part of that workforce,” she said.
Employees who make up the union include those who work at the Benton County Fairgrounds, Fleet Services, Benton County Public Works, Benton County Natural Areas and Parks, Benton County Health Department, as well as healthcare workers for the Community Health Centers of Benton and Linn Counties, and administrative staff within the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.
Presently, union members are at an impasse with Benton County management, and are looking ahead to the next phase of action.
“On October 11, we will file for mediation with the state, and so at that point in time we will work with a mediator to see if we can come to an agreement with management on our contract,” said Dale.
The contract being pursued by the union is a three-year contract, which they’re hoping would make up for the past two four-year contracts they’ve had.
“The last two contracts, we did not get a fair deal, and so people are pulling together and uniting to let management know that it needs to be right.”
If this proves unsuccessful, Dale said, the union has the avenue of striking. As for the rally itself, Dale believes it was an effective demonstration of the unity and perseverance of workers who are continuing to let the county know what they are owed.
“I think it just shows that the employees of Benton County are in this together, and that we’re tired of having poor contracts, we’re tired of not being paid a market wage the same as everybody else,” she said. “Our employees, I would say, are fed up.”