Kane County Board pushes off insurance switch amid tension with unions
Signs of rampant confusion and frustration with Kane County's ongoing union contract negotiations went on public display Tuesday. With some employees already on strike, county officials delayed a change to employee health insurance while also releasing the history of union contract offers made so far.
At the Kane County Board meeting, Matthew Lange, an organizer for AFSCME Local 3966, sparked lengthy debate on the health insurance change with a threat to file an unfair labor practice charge against the county. AFSCME represents workers in five unresolved union contracts.
Lange decried a lack of transparency in crafting a pending agreement to end the existing relationship with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois and start a one-year contract with AETNA.
He cited former President Barack Obama's "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it" speech, comparing it to the county's promises of no benefit changes.
"We all know how that turned out," Lange said. "Let's not get fooled again here."
Several county board members expressed their own concerns about not receiving copies of the proposed deal and/or the existing health care provider contract despite repeated requests. Board member Monica Silva, whose committee oversees the county's public health department, said nurses and "hundreds" of employees have contacted board members promising to quit if the county switches to AETNA.
"We have heard from a very representative voice that has told us they wish to stay with Blue Cross/Blue Shield," Silva said. "They are scared. I'm scared for them. Morale in the county is very low. This is not the time to do this."
The board decided after a lengthy closed-door session to delay the vote on the AETNA deal.
In the hallway outside that private meeting, county probation officers and youth counselors stewed with frustration. The 118 employees went on strike more than a week ago.
In various interviews, the employees said more than 30 youths at the juvenile justice center and some 10,000 people on probation, conditional discharge, pretrial monitoring or working to complete community service time are potential dangers to the community. Employees said there is no way nonstriking staff members can provide safe monitoring for people convicted of sex offenses and domestic battery and dealing with various drug addictions and mental health needs.
Youths at the juvenile justice center, the employees said, are currently getting one hour of school per day. They should receive six hours per day.
In public comments to the board, union members said they want to extend the current contract. That includes starting annual salaries of about $39,000 and a maximum salary of about $59,000. Employees said more than 90 percent of probation officers and youth counselors are in the lower third of the pay scale.
They want to extend the 3.7 percent raises they receive now for three more years. That translates into raises of about $1,700 per year employee. The deal would cost the county $200,000 over the life of the contract, employees said.
On the county side, Chief Judge Susan Clancy Boles sent a letter to the striking employees aimed at combating "misinformation." The letter details the history of three offers that were rejected.
The best offer came April 24. It would provide raises of 2.5 percent for three years. In the first two years of the proposed deal, those raises are achieved by a combination of percentage increases and annual bonus payments of $200.
A handful of senior probation officers and senior youth counselors would get monthly bonuses of $250, representing annual raises of more than 3.5 percent, Boles wrote.
The strike will continue Wednesday.