Lake County reverses course, reinstates paid holidays for some employees
The Lake County Board on Tuesday reversed a recent decision to take away three paid holidays from some employees because of financial struggles prompted by the COVID-19 crisis.
Under the latest ruling, county workers will receive paid time off on Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving. The board also reinstated this past Labor Day as a paid holiday and will reimburse workers who took the day off and weren't paid.
The original pay change was approved in August to help offset millions of dollars in revenue losses resulting from the pandemic. It was expected to save the county up to $1.8 million.
Officials said they were able to reverse the cuts because the U.S. Treasury Department has decided to allow federal coronavirus relief funds to be used on personnel costs.
Because of that guidance change, the county's financial situation is "greatly improved" and it will be able to balance its annual budget without the cuts, said county board member Paul Frank, a Highland Park Democrat who oversees the financial and administrative committee.
"I'm really happy to be able to say that we're able to refund these holidays," Frank said.
The original order was expected to affect nearly 1,100 of the county's more than 2,300 workers. It didn't hit more of the workforce because it didn't automatically apply to unionized workers, whose pay and holidays are guaranteed by collective labor contracts. Not all unions agreed to the pay cut.
That inequality drew criticism from many board members before last month's vote. The original proposal passed in an 11-10 vote that mostly fell along party lines.
Tuesday's reversal passed 21-0.
Before the vote, Republican board members Dick Barr of Round Lake Beach and Judy Martini of Fox Lake apologized to employees for any stress the original order caused. Both had opposed the original pay cut.
"We value our employees," Martini said. "I'm glad that we're making things right."
Board member Steve Carlson, a Gurnee-area Republican noted that the board didn't have to take away all three paid holidays last month. He had proposed taking away the Labor Day holiday but waiting on the two others to see if the county's financial circumstances changed.
But the board rejected that proposal at the time.
Board member Terry Wilke, a Round Lake Beach Democrat, said he and other officials acted "on the best recommendation we had."