Sussex County employees are paid $10,000 to $15,000 less than workers in similar jobs in other counties and towns, a Road Department employee told the county commissioners at their meeting Dec. 14.
“We have kicked this can down the road way too long and we have hurt fellow employees,” said Steven Masnaghetti, a shop steward of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1032, which represents most of the county’s employees.
About 19 members of the Road Department have left through attrition and retirement “and to other jobs in other areas” in the past year, he noted.
“This county can do so much better.”
Representatives of the employees are negotiating a new contract with the county administration. The current contract expires Saturday, Dec. 31.
RaeAnn Gerow, president of CWA Local 1032, said the county has reached a crisis “that has seen the compensation for many county workers fall to levels where employees working full-time are eligible for food stamps, subsidized heating fuel and other public welfare programs.”
“Now the crisis threatens to curtail basic county services for the taxpayers who pay for them year after year.”
Bill Hayden, who was elected a commissioner Nov. 8, agreed, saying, “Due to the lack of staffing (because of poor pay), our county may face hardships and difficulties should we have inclement weather.
”If you cannot get the police, ambulance or fire to your residence in an emergency, then the county government has failed you. And should you not be able to get to work, open your business or have conditions where people are stranded and residents cannot get out to purchase necessities, then the county government has failed you.”
Hayden, who takes office Wednesday, Jan. 4, promised to go through the county budget, remove waste and “find the money to pay for the services you deserve.”
“Our county employees are the backbone of those services,” he added.
10% raises unlikely
In a phone conversation Dec. 26, Masnaghetti said his basic salary as an equipment operator is $40,486 a year. Frankford Township recently hired two truck drivers for $55,000 a year each.
He estimated that 10 percent raises would bring county employees’ salaries close to where they should be but he does not expect to see that in the new contract.
The current contract provided for raises of 1 percent in 2020, 2 percent in 2021 and 0.75 percent in 2022.
Another problem is that employees in the same or similar jobs earn different amounts, he said. For example, a clerk in social services is paid $5,000 less than a clerk in the prosecutor’s office.
The two sides continue to negotiate and Masnaghetti does not expect them to reach an agreement by Saturday. If they don’t, they can continue to negotiate.
If both sides decide that they cannot reach an agreement, a mediator could be appointed to help them.
In addition to salaries, another major issue is the amount that the county pays for health benefits compared with what employees pay.
The union does not want to win pay raises, then see much of them go to pay for health benefits, he said.
“The compensation for many (Sussex) county workers (has fallen) to levels where employees working full-time are eligible for food stamps, subsidized heating fuel and other public welfare programs.” - RaeAnn Gerow, president of CWA Local 1032