PRINCETON — Gibson County Council members warned Gibson County Commissioners Tuesday that they haven't budgeted any money to contribute to a scholarship fund for children of union employees in 2019, and they don't intend to do so.
The warning came after the council met in special session Dec. 29 to make a fund transfer to pay the county's contribution to the Teamsters Local 215 scholarship fund for 2018.
Terms of the county's contract with Teamsters Local 215 include making a contribution to the fund at a rate of $2.50 per week per union member employed by the county. The amount totals about $13,000 per year.
County employees represented by the union are working under terms of the old contract until a new collective bargaining agreement for 2019 is negotiated.
County council members addressed the issue at their first meeting of the year. "It's kind of a hot topic the last three years in the budget," said council president Jay Riley.
County Commissioner Steve Bottoms said there are several ways to fund the scholarship, either by making monthly or quarterly payments. "It's a good program."
"We actually would like it out of the contract altogether," Riley told him. "I'm not saying it's a bad program, but it's not a fair program for all county employees.
Council members take issue with using taxpayer money to support the scholarship that is only available to children of union members.
Bottoms asked Riley how the scholarship differs from using county money to help repay the educational costs of deputy prosecutors. "This is no different than that," he suggested.
But councilman Craig Pflug said the prosecutor employees receive a benefit, and while there may be numerous people who have received the scholarships, it's not available to everyone.
Bottoms said last year some $225,000 in scholarship funds were distributed to children of Teamsters Local 215 members.
The same scholarship is part of the Teamsters Local 215 agreement for the city of Princeton's union employees and Gibson County Solid Waste Management District, and other government entities, said Bottoms.
"It's not in the 2019 budget," Pflug said. "There's no money appropriated. As a group of seven (council members), we're saying it probably should not be funded."
"Don't expect we will come in at the 11th hour and pay it," warned councilman Jeremy Overton. "If you do that, just realize that you're putting yourselves in a bad position," he told commissioners.
"We're listening," said Bottoms.
Overton said the payment was funded in 2018, but noted, "it was snuck in on us. We never approved it and never would have approved it."
"Once it's in the contract, you're obligated to pay," Bottoms said.
"But now you know it's not going to be funded," Overton reiterated.
Councilman Bill McConnell asked why there's no new contract for union employees, noting that after three months the collective bargaining is still not settled. "This is for the birds," he huffed.
"We do have a continuation clause," Bottoms responded. "I thought we would be further along...but there's really no actual harm and we are working on it."