WINFIELD – Employees of the Putnam County Circuit Clerk’s office have filed a petition to appeal a county commission order denying raises.

In August, the employees filed a grievance alleging they are significantly underpaid for their work. In September, the Putnam County Commission met to hear the grievance. They denied it, but said they’d do further research before their next budget hearing. County courthouse custodians joined them in the grievance and the petition.

In their petition, filed Jan. 15, the Circuit Court Clerk employees say the beginning pay rate of $11.19 per hour for County Clerk employees is significantly higher than their starting rate. Eight of the 11 people who work in the Circuit Clerk’s office make less than $11 per hour, the petition states.

“Seventy two percent of them would qualify for SNAP assistance (food stamp eligibility and HUD housing assistance),” the petition states. “Accordingly, they are largely unable to meet their families’ monthly financial obligations.”

It also notes that employees of Magistrate Court receive a pay rate of more than $8 more per hour. Magistrate Court employees are employees of the state Supreme Court, not the county.

“The Circuit Clerk’s employees handle a larger, wider reaching and considerably more important workload than the Magistrate Court,” the petition states. “Moreover, many fast-food and other low-skill employers are paying their employees at a higher starting hourly rate than the persons charged with maintaining the integrity, privacy and professionalism of the Putnam County Circuit Court system.”

The same is true for the courthouse custodial staff, the petition states.

Hurricane attorney Shawn Bayliss, who is representing the circuit clerk employees, said in August he understands the county is tied to the current year budget.

“A woman just left the office to work at Wendy’s,” Bayliss said then. “She’s now making $1.25 more an hour than what she was in the circuit clerk’s office.

“But, we are encouraged by the fact that the commissioners said they would look into the matter. I’m not sure they understood the gravity of the situation.”

Bayliss said some of the women who work in the Circuit Clerk Ronnie Matthews’ office nearly would qualify for food stamps on their current salary.

“They are left with such a menial salary that people who work at Wendy’s make more than the people who are entrusted with handling every child support payment, every alimony payment … any judgment of substance,” he said. “They do their job well, and they do it with integrity.

“State code says the employees are to be paid a reasonable and proper wage. It is our opinion they are not being paid a reasonable and proper wage.”

The circuit clerk office employees filed the grievance after reviewing the minutes from a Putnam County Commission meeting in which employees of the County Clerk’s office were given raises.

“Within the minutes, it states the County Clerk has hired a new full time employee with a starting pay at $11.19 an hour,” the grievance states. “We have experienced employees in the Circuit Clerk’s office who are not making near that amount and have not received raises when other departments have.

“We also have a chief deputy with 35-plus years (of) experience who is not making the same pay as other chief deputies in her position.”

The grievance also states that Matthews was told July 31 by County Manager Brian Donat that if employees in his office wanted a raise, the commission could do away with their insurance and possibly their one-hour paid lunch.

“We do not believe the County Clerk’s office had to take a cut in benefits when their received their raise,” the grievance states. “Regardless of the threat, we feel this is a justified request. We, as an office, feel that this is discrimination.”

The grievance states that the Circuit Clerk employees are requesting fair and equal relief based on the current pay scale of other clerks.

“We do not fault the other employees for the money they received,” it states. “However, we feel that we are just as entitled to fair wages as well.”

The grievance says the County Clerk’s office had money left in its budget, but that the Circuit Clerk’s office did as well. That money, the grievance states, was relinquished to the county.

“We feel this constitutes unfair wages,” according to the grievance, which is signed by the 11 Circuit Clerk employees, including Chief Deputy Darlene Smith.

The employees and custodians seek an order requiring the County Commission to grand the appellants a reasonable and competitive wage increase. They also seek other relief deemed fair and just.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Joseph Reeder.

Putnam Circuit Court case number: 16-AA-1

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