Demonstrators picket outside Wood River Township over union dispute; Business rep says 'modest wage increase' is less than attorney fees

By Record News | Oct 10, 2018

Supporters and members of the local machinists’ union picketed outside of Wood River Township Supervisor Mike Babcock’s office Tuesday in response to a union dispute between Babcock and the Township Assessor’s Office. 

Business representative Roy Collins said the group wanted to get the word out about the dispute and put pressure on Babcock. 

A brochure handed out during the picket states that “Mike Babcock, indicating due to economic reasons, has been instrumental in hiring multiple anti-union attorneys to fight against the assessors and to renegotiate the agreement we have already reached.”

Collins said the dispute has involved five attorneys, all at the taxpayer's expense. He said that the Wood River Township Board has had three St. Louis attorneys involved in either discussions or negotiations in addition to an attorney on retainer at all times for the township. He said the township assessor has also retained an attorney on her behalf. 

"What we're really wanting to get out there is the expense of the attorneys versus the expense of what this contract would cost," Collins said. "It seems like wasted spending of taxpayer dollars."

The brochure handed out at the picket stated that the Township Assessor's Office has reached "a fair agreement with a modest wage increase," which Collins said pales in comparison to the taxpayer dollars being spent on attorney fees. 

Babcock said the board has only had two attorneys involved in the dispute. The board was originally represented by attorney Brian Hey of McMahon Berger PC in St. Louis. Due to medical reasons, the board is now represented by Kevin Lorenz of McMahon Berger. 

According to Lorenz’s biography, he “devotes his practice to the exclusive representation of employers in all aspects of labor and employment …” 

Babcock said he is “baffled” by the demonstration. 

“Township employees have a right to unionize, and I’m not standing in the way of them doing that,” Babcock said. “We do, however, need to negotiate in good faith on behalf of the taxpayers.”

“It is important for people to know that the township employees have received 3 percent raises for the last seven years. One hundred percent of their health insurance is paid for and 12 percent is paid into the IMRF pension fund for them. They also get a paid one hour lunch, two paid 15 minute breaks, and 12 holidays and two to five weeks of paid vacations. They also get two weeks of sick pay if needed. I believe one would be hard pressed to find such lucrative benefits anywhere else,” he added.  

Collins said that "if Mr. Babcock wanted to negotiate in good faith, the easiest thing for him to do was to be a part of the process at the very beginning."

He said the union originally served the papers to Babcock's office because he is the township supervisor. He said Babcock refused to accept them and withdrew from the process.

Collins said the union then served the papers to the assessor's office. 

After the union reached a tentative agreement with the employees in the assessor's office, Collins said the board voted against the contract and wanted to renegotiate. 

"I'm not sure that's negotiating in good faith," Collins said. 

Babcock said he is trying to work with the union, but wants to ensure that the contract for those in the machinists’ union match that of the labor union contract. 

“One contract should not supersede the other contract,” he said. “That’s my goal.”

He added that there are currently some differences between the contracts, but did not specify those differences. 

“They would tell you I’m not bargaining with them, but the truth of the matter is that I am,” Babcock said. 

Collins said the board's counterproposals concern language and proceeding proposals. 

He said the board does not want to commit to any wage increases, and instead wants the board to handle increases on an annual basis. 

The current contract seeks to ensure a 3.5 percent wage increase each year. 

Collins said the board also wants to strike the language specifying how promotions are dealt with, wants to remove how progressive discipline will be handled, and wants to have two different employee handbooks - one for union employees and one for non-union employees. 

Babcock is running on the Republican ticket in the 111th district for the Illinois House of Representatives. 

In a candidate profile for the Belleville News Democrat on Oct. 9, Babcock said he “grew up in a union family” and was a member of the local machinists’ union when he worked at Olin Corporation for a brief time.

“As such, I have a deep respect for union workers and what they have accomplished for the people of our community. As state representative, I will be doing everything I can to bring good paying jobs back to the metro-east,” the profile states.

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