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Rock County, unions work out contract changes

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Catherine W. Idzerda
January 12, 2012
— There’s no need to rub it in.

That seemed to be the guiding principal of this year’s contract negotiations between Rock County and its unions.


Tonight, the Rock County Board will consider contracts for five of its 10 bargaining units.


This will be the first set of union contracts settled after Act 10, the state bill that limits collective bargaining to wages only and caps pay increases with the Consumer Price Index.


Act 10 also means that for the first time local governments can change working hours, overtime rules, the amount of vacation, how sick time can be used, health insurance and a variety of other issues related to working conditions.


In Rock County government, however, negotiators left previously negotiated rules in place and focused instead on wages and health insurance changes.


“We made a very conscious effort not to change those (work rules)”, said Dave O’Connell, county human resources director. “That was intentional on our part.”


That decision came, in part, from County Administrator Craig Knutson.


“I think Craig’s philosophy was not to take away any more that we had to,” O’Connell said.


Work hours did change in some departments. Community support program workers will have different hours because of changes in the way crisis-intervention occurs, for example.


Knutson acknowledged that the county could have rewritten more work rules, but both union and non-union employees already are facing “fairly substantial changes” in their health insurance and pension plans, he said.


“They will now be paying 5.9 percent of salary towards the retirement system,” Knutson said. “That’s a 5.9 percent salary decrease in some senses of the word—it’s a decrease in take home pay.”


Knutson credits his employees with being “really, really good about working through all of these changes in the past year.”


The changes in the health insurance plan include:


-- Increasing co-pays from $100 per individual and $300 per family to $250 per individual and $750 per family.


-- Increasing the maximum out-of-pocket expense from $550 per individual and $1,000 per family to $1,100 per individual to $2,000 per family.


-- Establishing a $200 co-pay for using an emergency room. The co-pay would be waived if the person was admitted to the hospital.


-- Increasing the co-pay on generic drugs from $7 to $10; on formulary brand drugs from $22 to $25; and on non-formulary brand drugs $40 to $50.


It should be noted, however, that if a county employee participates fully in the county’s wellness program, the county will pay 100 percent of the premium, and that’s an option for employees who want to keep their costs down.


O’Connell said the changes were made to offset the higher costs of the health care plan. Rock County is self-insured for health insurance.


“With these changes we were able to hold the budget to a 0 percent increase in health care costs,” Knutson said.


All contracts under consideration tonight contain the equivalent of a half percent wage increase for the year.


The contracts are for:


-- Rock County Attorney’s Association, representing five child support, social services council and other attorneys.


-- American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1077, representing 75 public works and general service employees.


-- AFSCME Local 1258, representing 200 workers at Rock Haven.


-- Wisconsin Professional Police Association representing the 33 youth specialists and community youth specialists who work at the Youth Services Center, formerly called the Juvenile Detention Center.


-- AFSCME 2489, representing about 350 clerical and administrative staff.


The county still has to settle with five more bargaining units, but only three of those are covered under Act 10. The remaining two, both representing employees at the sheriff’s office, are not affected.



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