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Thursday, May 26, 2011 06:09 am

Park district raises draw union complaints

AFSCME claims administrators are doing work reserved for union members

Tensions are running high over raises for Springfield Park District administrators amid layoffs last year and recent union complaints filed against the park district.

Raises for at least 15 park district supervisors were not revealed until the day before the Springfield Park Board voted to pass the $11.16 million budget May 18. Raises include a 3.9 percent pay increase for Michael Stratton, executive director of the Springfield Park District, who went from $93,994.68 to $97,754.28 per year, according to a document obtained by Illinois Times. Superintendent of Natural Resources Chuck Smith received an 18.7 percent increase, from $54,054 to $64,216.10 per year. Superintendent of Park Services George Tucker, Sr. got a 22.4 percent pay increase, from $54,054 to $66,216.02 per year. The average pay increase was nearly 6 percent, but 12 of 15 administrators received a raise of less than 4 percent, including Talon Thornton, zoo director, and Jackie Peeler, assistant zoo director and curator.

Stratton defends the pay increases. He says that the park district lost six jobs in the last year and has taken on more projects than in years past.

“Over the past three years we had not received any increase at all in wages as cost of living and the price of everything has gone up, especially gasoline,” says Stratton. “One of the things that we wanted to address this year after the three-year no increase, was an opportunity to provide some level of an increase in recognition of the hard work of all of our department directors and all of our support staff.

“They do an incredible job. I’m happy to give them additional monies to continue the projects that we do,” he says.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2050 President Brian Schroeder requested to see the raises through the Freedom of Information Act.

Schroeder says that the “crazy raises” for the administration are on the backs of people who are actually doing the work, referring to maintenance workers.

“I don’t know why they don’t have the money to keep the basic maintenance going on at the zoo but that’s up to them,” he says. “Now the work can’t get done and now you’ve got management trying to pick up the slack, which they’re not supposed to do.”

At least a half dozen grievances have been filed with the Springfield Park District within the last month, says Schroeder.

Zookeeper Kasie Wagner at Henson Robinson Zoo and Schroeder filed three grievances with the park district May 12 because zoo administration staff members allegedly were cleaning bathrooms and performing grounds work at a recent zoo event, jobs set aside for union employees under contract.

“It’s been an ongoing problem out at the zoo with their volunteers and what not,” says Schroeder. “Lately they’ve gone with having management do the union duties to pick up the loose ends I guess.”

Wagner says that a maintenance worker had been scheduled to work at the event but had become sick. Management allegedly refused to let another union worker come in to save money on overtime pay.

“I don’t think I can comment on anything because they’re still pending,” says Thornton, referring to any union grievances.

Thornton confirmed that he had met with Schroeder May 19 to discuss the grievances filed.

Wagner cites the workers’ union contract which doesn’t allow administration to deny overtime. She is among several employees who were laid off from the zoo in 2010 and given part-time status.

She says she was told by park district administration there was no money for restoring laid-off employees to full-time status. With raises for the administrative staff passed in the 2012 budget, she doesn’t see her full-time job coming back anytime soon.

When Stratton was asked if he is satisfied with zoo operations, he said, with hesitation, “I am better today than I was several months ago.”

“I can’t remember the last time we filed a grievance,” says Wagner, who thinks the last complaint filed with the administration might have been two years ago.

The union is the collective bargaining unit for nearly 80 percent of the park district’s workforce, according to Stratton.

Schroeder says staff at the zoo didn’t argue when approached by union representatives about staff performing work on the zoo grounds.

“They knew they were doing the work. They just didn’t have the staffing,” says Schroeder.

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.
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