Will County union votes on strike authorization
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org October 16, 2013 10:26PM
Updated: November 18, 2013 8:01AM
Members of Will County government’s largest employees union are voting this week on whether to give their bargaining committee the power to call a strike.
After 14 months of labor negotiations and no contract, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028 is taking a strike authorization vote over three days through Thursday in a banquet room at the Holiday Inn, 411 S. Larkin Ave.
If the bargaining committee gets the OK, as expected, the union will carry that power into another negotiation session set for Tuesday. If talks break down, the union would have to give county officials a 10-day strike notice.
Pay raises and health insurance costs are the biggest issues preventing a settlement. Local 1028 president Dave Delrose said his 1,260 members haven’t had a cost-of-living raise since 2009 and are now being asked to pay more for medical insurance.
County officials say they’re willing to compromise and are offering modest raises as well as $100 monthly payments for employees who are at the top of their salary scale and do not receive annual 2.5 percent step increases for additional years of employment.
The health insurance debate is more complex. Union workers now pay 1 percent of their salaries for individual insurance coverage and 2 percent for family coverage.
The county has proposed a tiered system that would set the percentage that they pay for their premium, depending on their pay. Workers would be divided into three categories: those who earn $30,000 per year or less, those at $30,000 to $50,000 and those who make $50,000 and above. Workers earning more would pay a higher percentage of the premium.
For instance, someone earning less than $30,000 who chooses family PPO coverage would pay $42.08 biweekly compared with $19.78 now. Someone earning $50,000 or more would pay $117.91 biweekly for such coverage compared with $55.58 now.
However, by giving employees two new coverage choices — employee plus spouse and employee and children — that will save money for many workers who now have only family coverage to pick from, according to Paul Rafac, the county’s finance director. Rafac also said the county has lowered deductibles and co-pay amounts since its original proposal.
Nick Palmer, chief of staff for Will County Executive Larry Walsh, said county employees pay less for insurance coverage than their peers in surrounding counties.
“By shifting to a percent of premium (instead of salary), we are in effect getting a higher contribution from employees that is more in line with our peer counties,” Palmer said.
But Delrose countered that Will County employees on average also earn less than workers in the other counties.
Union members say it’s not fair to reduce their benefits by hiking insurance costs with little or no raises. But county officials say they’re trying to make a tight budget work.
“We have way more demand for our resources than we have resources to pay for things, and that’s probably true of every governmental body, corporate entity and household,” Rafac said.
Only about 1,000 of Local 1028 members are eligible to vote on the strike authorization, Delrose said. Correctional officers at the county jail are not allowed to strike by law, and there are strike restrictions on assistant state’s attorneys.
Voting members include employees who work for the county clerk, circuit court clerk, assessor, coroner, recorder of deeds, chief judge and public defender; civilians in the sheriff’s department; court bailiffs; River Valley Justice Center support staff and nurses at Sunny Hill Nursing Home.