Kane County keeps insurance provider, OKs union contract
Disagreements among high-level Kane County officials about contracts governing raises and benefit changes for the county's 1,300 employees played out Tuesday in a lengthy session closed to the public.
There were no handshakes at the end, but there were two agreements that will affect residents' wallets.
County board Chairman Chris Lauzen and State's Attorney Joe McMahon occupied the same room for the first time since pointing fingers at each other last week through memos detailing an ongoing disagreement with employees represented by AFSCME.
The meeting included a two-hour, nonpublic session with a discussion that at points could be heard outside the room.
The end result was an agreement to keep Blue Cross/Blue Shield as the insurance provider. That was the most expensive option to the county after a decision to leave the Intergovernmental Personnel Benefit Cooperative.
The board also agreed to a new union contract that will provide four years of raises for the building and maintenance staff.
The decision to stick with Blue Cross meant a second straight year of rebuffing attempts by Lauzen to switch to Aetna. Even by board members' own descriptions, Aetna was the cheapest option.
The decision to stick with Blue Cross puts taxpayers on the hook for up to $4 million more if the unlikely worst-case scenario of health care claims happens.
Board members said in discussions leading up to Tuesday's final vote that sticking with Blue Cross retains one of the prime attractions to working for the county. It also offered the least disruption to existing health care for employees and their families.
Several board members said they had contact with employees who were afraid to speak out against a cost-saving switch to Aetna.
"They will not come forward because they are afraid for their jobs," board member Susan Starrett said. "A lot of people have said if we do leave (Blue Cross) they will leave (the county)."
Lauzen suggested several changes to the insurance contracts to clarify technicalities. McMahon repeatedly shot him down, saying they weren't necessary.
That sparked the lengthy closed-door meeting to discuss union contracts. There was even disagreement about whether to close the meeting to the public. Lauzen led the charge to keep it open.
"I called for a vote, and the board preferred to keep those conversations in the background," Lauzen said. "I think it's a charade to have these closed sessions on matters that impact the spending of millions of taxpayer dollars."
After the closed session, the board voted to approve a new union contract with buildings and facilities employees. The contract provides for a 2 percent raise dating to Nov. 1, 2018. There is no raise in 2019. Then there are three years of 2 percent raises kicking in on Jan. 1 of each year up to and including 2022. The union already ratified the agreement.