Some Lake County employees face pay cuts through unpaid holidays
Three days that previously had been paid time off for Lake County government employees will be unpaid days this fall for about half the workforce under a controversial plan approved Tuesday.
The county board voted not to pay employees who don't work on Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and the day after Thanksgiving rather than giving them paid time off work as in past years.
The change was proposed to help offset millions of dollars in revenue losses resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. It could save the county up to $1.8 million, officials said.
The order likely will affect nearly 1,100 of the county's more than 2,300 workers, Human Resources Director John Light said after the vote. The order won't hit more of the workforce because it doesn't automatically apply to unionized workers, whose pay and holidays are guaranteed by collective labor contracts.
And not all unions have agreed to the pay cut.
That inequality drew criticism from many board members during Tuesday's meeting, which was held remotely because of the pandemic.
"If this was across the board, I wouldn't have a problem with it," Antioch Republican Linda Pedersen said.
"This is only going to hurt some people," Gurnee-area Republican Steve Carlson said. "This thing is not fair."
Vernon Hills Democrat Julie Simpson also acknowledged the plan wasn't fair but voted for it anyway, saying board members are "doing the best we can with what's in our authority."
The three days were chosen because they're the last three paid holidays of the county's 2020 fiscal year, which ends Nov. 30. The plan applies to only those days this fiscal year.
Employees who have to work on any of those three days despite the order will be paid at their regular rates rather than bonus holiday rates, County Administrator Gary Gibson said.
Departments unable to implement the new policy must make other spending cuts.
To counter lost revenue from taxes and fees resulting from the pandemic, county officials have trimmed about $18.5 million in operational spending this year, said board member Paul Frank, who leads the panel's financial and administrative committee.
With the virus still raging and the economy not recovering, more cuts are needed, Frank said.
Taking the money out of reserves isn't a prudent option because it could hurt the county's bond rating and result in higher interest rates if the board needs to borrow money, Frank said.
The financial savings from the unpaid days could save 20 or 30 jobs, he said.
After two hours of debate, the proposal passed in an 11-10 vote that mostly fell along party lines. Only Waukegan Democrat Diane Hewitt broke ranks, voting with the board's nine Republicans against the plan.
Libertyville Democrat Jennifer Clark said she backed the proposal because the county's financial picture is bleak.
"Unless there's a miracle ... there's just not going to be enough money to pay our bills this year," Clark said. "And next year could be worse than this year."
Waukegan Democrat Mary Ross Cunningham said cutting expenses through unpaid days off is better for workers than layoffs.
"I'd rather (lose) pay and keep my job," she said.
Three Republican-led attempts to amend the proposal in ways that could have eased the burden on workers failed.
Because elected officials' salaries are not affected by the pay cut, Frank said he'll show solidarity by donating a percentage of his salary to a local charity. Lake Zurich Republican Craig Taylor suggested all board members make similar donations so they "get some skin in the game."