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Commissioners approve employee communications consultants in wake of union petition

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CARLISLE — The Cumberland County commissioners voted 2-1 Thursday afternoon to approve a contract addendum allowing labor counsel Campbell, Durrant, Beatty, Palombo & Miller to engage consultants for communications with employees.

The move comes after a May 14 National Labor Relations Board petition filed by Teamsters Local 776 to create a union for non-professional, court-related Cumberland County employees.

The new agreement creates a general policy but is “also specifically to put something in place for us surrounding this issue regarding the teamsters and the court-related offices,” Chief Clerk Larry Thomas said. It will allow the labor counsel to engage consultants for employee-related communications, but only “very specific conditions and limitations” and at the specific direction of the commissioners, Thomas said.

Commissioner Jim Hertzler cast the dissenting vote.

“I was not convinced that spending up to $30,000 on another consultant to the county, for the purpose of communicating with our employees, was a necessary expenditure,” Hertzler said.

Thomas said the final cost of engaging a consultant has not yet been determined. However, it would likely be less expensive than having the legal counsel itself handle employee communications, he said.

Commissioner Gary Eichelberger supported the agreement, noting that there are sensitive legal questions involved with providing employees information on union-related issues while complying with labor laws.

“While bringing in the expertise needed to meet this requirement will involve some cost, failing to do so involves the potential for much greater cost, both in terms of finances and losses of employee trust and satisfaction. This is an investment that makes long-term sense in every way,” Eichelberger said.

He has been advocating for more active internal communications from county management to answer employee questions and concerns, especially given the county’s current budget difficulties, he said. In the cause of the union petition situation, the county needs to ensure that employees “get the information they need to make a balanced and informed assessment of what a union truly offers them versus what it can cost them,” he said.

The status of the teamsters petition — which could lead to the unionization of less than 100 new employees in court-related departments such as the sheriff, coroner, clerk of courts and prothonotary’s office — is still pending as information is shared among the parties involved, Thomas said.

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