Lancaster caseworkers ratify deal, but problems still loom

Lancaster County is hoping to woo new social workers and retain others as Children and Youth workers resign at a dizzying pace.

SEIU Local 668 recently ratified a new 4-year contract for more than 100 Lancaster Children and Youth workers, with pay increases that county commissioners hope will slow the exodus.

The contract, which replaces an old deal that expired at the end of 2016, includes clerical staff, fiscal staff, caseworker trainees, caseworkers, senior caseworkers, and family therapists.

Business Agent Karmella Sams said the workers are “some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever dealt with,” but they’re “underpaid, under-appreciated, and overworked.”

Lancaster County Commissioners have suspected, due in part to high turnover, that many county workers were underpaid. They ordered a $100,000 wage study, and it found that 497 of the county’s 1,260 nonunion positions need increases to be competitive with the job market, according to Lancaster Online.

It’s not yet clear how or whether that study, which wrapped up in June, will affect Children and Youth, Sams said. The contract salaries still don’t reflect the results of the study.

The contract called for a 17.5-percent raise over four years for caseworkers, senior caseworkers, caseworker trainees, and family therapists. Clerical and fiscal staff will receive 12.5 percent over four years, according to the contract.

The county has been able to hire some people since the pay increases went into effect last year, but the agency is still hemorrhaging staff, Sams said.

“For every member, they sign up, they’re losing three members,” she said.

Even three stewards who were helping with negotiations resigned before they were finished.

Emotional toll

The pay isn’t the only problem. The job involves dangerous domestic situations in which parents are openly aggressive, on-call interruptions at all times of the day and night, and heartbreaking stories of physical and sexual abuse that take an emotional toll.

“I can’t imagine dealing with the things they see every day,” Sams said.

Workers are required to investigate all allegations in a timely manner, and that requires long hours and seemingly endless overtime that only worsens as more staff members give up and find other jobs.

The caseload has increased exponentially in many county agencies in Pennsylvania since the trial of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of rape and child sexual abuse. While more reports reflect a necessary shift inattentiveness about sex abuse, more staff is needed to handle the caseload, Sams said.

Court decision hinders

But despite the demands of the job and the county’s apparent failure to keep salaries competitive, an overwhelming majority of the workers – about 80 — choose not to take full advantage of the union’s power by becoming full members.

After the Janus Supreme Court decision, public employees don’t have to pay fees to unions to cover the cost of the collective bargaining from which they benefit. Buoyed by the decision, commissioners held their ground and refused contract language to make non-members pay a fair share, Sams said.

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