JOLIET, Ill. (STMW) — Grateful to have all county employees back on the job, the Will County Board on Thursday approved a four-year contract with its union workers, with the only “no” vote cast by board member David Izzo.

The employees will receive a 4.5 percent cost-of-living raise phased in over the next two years and pay more of their health insurance premiums. The union members overwhelmingly approved the contract this month, ending a 16-day strike.

County officials said they did not know exactly how much more money the county would spend through the contract with the five bargaining units represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028.

“Every employee will go home with more money. No one loses, but some could make out more than others,” human resources director Bruce Tidwell said.

Tidwell estimated that the county will save about $2 million on insurance costs over the life of the contract. Final figures on the contract’s actual cost to the county won’t be known until after a special enrollment period for the new insurance plan is completed in February.

The first 1 percent raise is effective Jan. 1, followed by another 1 percent on March 1, when the new insurance premiums go into effect. On Jan. 1, 2015, employees will get a 1.5 percent increase and then a 1 percent raise in January 2016.

The cost-of-living raises are in addition to the 2.5 percent step increases on the salary scale that employees get automatically for each additional year of employment, meaning workers will get a 14.5 percent raise by the end of 2016.

“These step increases should be eliminated. Salaries should be based on performance and merit,” Izzo, R-Tinley Park, said, explaining his vote against the plan.

He stressed that overall, the amount of money the county has available to pay its employees remains the same.

“Elected officials will have to make some tough choices about staffing or find other ways to cut expenses,” Izzo said. “We really have good workers. We just need to change this philosophy on step increases.”

Regarding the higher medical insurance premiums, employees now contribute 1 percent to 2 percent of their salaries for coverage. Under the new contract, they will pay 8 to 10 percent of their premium costs (rather than salary) over the next three years. In some cases, insurance payments will more than double for workers.

The insurance coverage also changes from a two-tier to a four-tier system, giving employees more choices. They previously had a choice between individual or family coverage. Now, they will have the options of individual, employee and spouse, employee and children or family plans.

County board Speaker Herbert Brooks Jr., D-Joliet, said it was a “combined effort” of the union and the board to bring the strike to an end.

“This is a very good agreement,” board member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, said. “It’s important to keep our costs as low as possible because that money comes from the taxpayers. We need to be cognizant of taxpayers and employees.”

About half of the county’s 2,300 employees are members of Local 1028. The new pact covers five of the seven contracts that Local 1028 has with Will County, but historically the contract will apply to all other union and non-union workers.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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