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WILL COUNTY, AFSCME Local 1028 Reach Compromise

JOLIET – After being on strike for almost three weeks , Will County AFSCME Local 1028 members returned to work on Thursday following a marathon session of negotiations between county officials and union representatives beginning Tuesday and ending early Wednesday morning.  The two sides were able to compromise on the major issues of the new contract, increases to the employee contributions for health care benefits and wage increases. Union members voted to ratify the agreement on Thursday.

 

“As I have said for many weeks, no one wins with a strike,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh. “I am happy that we were able to get our workers back to their jobs and receiving their paychecks and insurance benefits again.  All of us were concerned about the families of our workers, especially during the holiday season.  However, we are satisfied that we were able to reach a compromise that balances our fiscal responsibilities with the needs of our employees.”

 

Walsh and the county's negotiation team have been negotiating with AFSCME Local 1028 for more than15 months, the last five months with the aid of a federal mediator.  The main sticking points were increased health care costs and wage increases.  Previously, employee contributions were based on a percentage of their salary.  One of the county’s major goals of these negotiations was to make a switch to employees paying a percentage of the premium of their healthcare benefits.  In the end, the County and Union agreed to this switch.

 

“The County Board and my office sought to replace an unsustainable method of paying for benefits with a more fiscally responsible model,” said Walsh.  “Will County has grown to larger than 700,000 residents and we must balance the needs of all our residents as we provide services to our communities.  There is only so much money available and we believe this contract will put Will County on a more sustainable path for the future.”

 

 

 

Walsh noted that during the negotiation process, the County worked with the union to balance the competing perspectives on the terms of the contract.  Ultimately, the county compromised to increase the health care contributions over three years from 8 percent to 10 percent aggregate of the health benefits rather than 10 percent for all three years.    The employee contributions remain income banded so that lower paid employees pay less and upper income employees pay more.  This ability to pay model has been in place with the existing system and it was important to both the County Board and Executive to keep this fairness in mind with the new contract.

 

“Working with the County Board my office sought to continue to maintain a progressive health care model for our employees,” said Executive Walsh.  “During the negotiations my office worked to include an upper income bracket so that the highest paid employees paid a larger share of the cost as compared to the lower income employees.  We believed this was fair, but there had to be a compromise on what this amount was.  Ultimately, no one was completely happy with these agreed to amounts which often means this was a true compromise.”

 

 The County agreed to continue “step” pay increases each year of the contract which mean union employees will receive regular increases of approximately 2.5 percent throughout the four year contract.  However, in the final contract these step increases, along with cost of living increases, were adjusted to remove some of the lower paid salaries and bring these employees up on the pay plans.

 

“I am happy to report that AFSCME Local 1028 ratified our compromise contract on Thursday evening and I am hopeful that the County Board will give a strong approval of this contract at the December County Board meeting,” said Walsh.  “I want to thank all of our employees who continued to work throughout the work stoppage by the union and who kept county services going despite the strike.  I particularly want to thank our negotiating team who spent countless hours at the bargaining table to reach this fair agreement.”

 

Walsh expressed optimism that both union and management employees could begin the healing process to repair relationships that were strained due to the strike.  

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