In response to difficulty attracting applicants, the starting salary for more experienced Luzerne County Children and Youth caseworkers has increased $4,236 in a new union contract adopted by county council this week.
Applicants hired for this “caseworker II” position will now start at $36,000. The job requires an applicable bachelor’s degree and one year of professional casework experience with a social services agency, according to an online county job posting announcing immediate openings.
The administration has been pushing to fill caseworker II vacancies because the position requires less supervision and training.
Children and Youth Director Joanne Van Saun has publicly called for a compensation increase for caseworkers in her agency, saying the pay has contributed to challenges filling the high-stress position.
The compensation boost should help, county Manager C. David Pedri said Wednesday.
“It’s a difficult job, and our starting salaries put us at a disadvantages because other counties were paying more,” Pedri said. “This salary will make us competitive with other counties, and we hope to attract and recruit the best and brightest.”
The new contract with the 146-employee Children and Youth union also rewards workers hired before 2016 with a one-time $500 step increase, according to a summary released by the administration.
A 2 percent raise will be provided this year, followed by 3 percent increases in 2019, 2 percent in 2020 and 3 percent in 2021.
Entry-level caseworker I positions start at $29,371 annually in the county, and the contract summary did not specify a change for that compensation.
The pay for current caseworker II employees will be increased to $36,000 if they are making less. In this situation, workers won’t be eligible for this year’s 2 percent across-the-board pay raise unless their compensation is currently between $35,800 and $35,900.
Two more deals OK’d
Council also approved new union contracts with two other human service branches — 51 workers in Mental Health and Developmental Services and 77 in the Agency on Aging.
All three contracts expired Dec. 31 and are handled by Teamsters Local 401.
The starting salary for mental health caseworkers also was increased from $31,790 to $32,700 for entry-level hires and from $34,248 to $36,000 for the caseworker II position, the summary says.
A 2.5 percent raise will be provided this year. The union’s subsequent pay raises: 2019, 3 percent; 2020, 2.5 percent; and 2021, 2 percent.
The same caveat will apply to current mental health caseworker II employees. Their pay will be bumped up to $36,000 if they are making less, but they will lose out on this year’s 2.5 percent raise unless their compensation was between $35,800 and $35,900.
Aging agency employees will receive the same blanket raises as those in mental health: 2.5 percent this year and then 3 , 2.5 and 2 percent in the remaining three years of the contract.
Employees in all three unions will pay more toward health insurance.
Their contributions were previously 10 percent.
Current employees will continue paying that amount this year and increase to 12 percent contributions from 2019 through 2021. Employees hired after the contracts’ ratification will pay 15 percent.
Non-union employees have been paying 10 percent for more than a decade. Some council members have pressed the administration to start shifting workers toward a new benchmark of 20 percent or more.
Depending on the type of plan selected, this year’s contributions for employees at 10 percent range from $28 to $86 every two weeks. At 12 percent, the amounts run from $33 to $104.
Some other changes in all three new agreements:
• On-call pay: The weekly payments for employees on call will increase from $585 to $590 in Mental Health, from $520 to $540 in Children and Youth and from $435 to $450 in Aging.
• Cash in days: Starting this year, the county will buy back up to four days of prior unused vacation days at $110 each.
• Higher education: Employees will continue to receive tuition reimbursement for up to 12 credits annually for courses related to their county position. However, the new contracts require employees to reimburse the county if they leave employment within one year of completing training.
• Probationary period: The amount of time that must pass for new hires to be considered regular employees was not specified in prior contracts but will now be 180 days.
• Personnel actions: Written disciplinary notices will now be removed after one year.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.