County Employees Seek Voice on Court - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

11/12/02 - Tyler

County Employees Seek Voice on Court

   Smith County employees are talking unions. More than one hundred employees have decided to join an Association with the United Steelworkers of America. But, as county employees, they won't have the right to strike or bargain collectively for a better salary. That has some asking why low paid employees would spend even more of their paychecks in union dues.

   Betty Thomas has worked in the Smith County Courthouse for the last 16 years. She hopes to retire soon, if she can afford it. "They have gotten worse. A lot worse with this last budget. Our insurance has a $2000 deductible on it. My husband's ill. I'm waiting on the bill from UT Health Center now."

   Shera Guillory works one floor below Betty Thomas. She's been here 18 years, but no longer thinks she counts in the eyes of the court. "We've been told by one Commissioner that we are one half of one percent of the taxpayers, and we really don't matter."

   That's why both Betty and Shera have signed up to join an Employee Association, headed up by their co-worker, Russell Buffington. "This will allow county employees the opportunity to be able to come to the Commissioner's Court as a whole and express to them what our concerns are."

   "Spin it any way that you want, it is a liberal labor organization," says District Clerk and County Judge Elect Becky Dempsey. "If you look at the last election in this county, we do not live in a liberal county that supports big labor unions." Dempsey admits the county has done a lot to alienate workers over the past several years, including raises for all of the Commissioners three years ago. But she says she wants a chance to make things better without the threat of a union. "I think they already have a voice. And, I'd really like for a lot of these folks to give the new administration a chance to listen to their voices and their concerns."

   Shera, Russell, Betty, and more than one hundred of their co-workers say the only way they'll have a voice is if they all speak as one.

   Monday, the Employee Association asked the Commissioner's Court to allow direct payroll deduction for union dues. The court will decide on that request next Monday.

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