Collective bargaining law allows county to change benefits, some employees unhappy

2011-09-14T06:29:00Z 2013-12-18T13:41:03Z Collective bargaining law allows county to change benefits, some employees unhappySTEPHANIE JONES Journal Times

YORKVILLE - Starting next year, Racine County employees will be more limited on how much comp time they can accrue, will need to pay more for name-brand prescription drugs and will not be able to receive overtime unless they work more than 40 hours.

These were just a handful of the benefit changes the county's Finance and Human Resources Committee unanimously set Tuesday night as part of a more uniform personnel policy for all employees that will go into effect Jan. 1.

In the past, unions used to bargain for such items. But this spring when the state Legislature passed Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining changes, most public unions lost the power to bargain over benefits and personnel policies.

Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig, who proposed the changes, estimated the changes will save the county several hundred thousand dollars per year. Ladwig did not have specific figures Tuesday. That is in addition to the estimated $1.5 million savings in employee pension contributions that resulted from recent state collective bargaining changes.

"Let's be honest. Nobody likes anybody to change their benefits," he said. "But I do believe these are reasonable changes. I still believe our benefit package is very good."

Under the changes, employees will no longer be able to accrue up to 800 hours of comp time and use it at retirement as in the past. Instead, they will be limited to about 80 hours, with discretion for some supervisors. Also, employees could take a vacation or sick day then pick up an extra shift and receive overtime even without working 40 hours.

After the Finance Committee approved the changes Tuesday night at the Ives Grove Office Complex, 14200 Washington Ave., about 10 county staff members quickly left the room.

Pat Proska, who works in the District Attorney's office, said the benefit changes will affect wages for employees.

Nonunion employees are already contributing 5.8 percent of their wages to their pensions, as are employees in the three unions with expired contracts. The other unions will start contributing at the end of the year when their contracts expire.

In addition to pension contributions, the county is eliminating longevity pay, a type of bonus for employees who have been with the county for many years. The county paid $83,000 for that in 2010. Also, the county is changing how much it will contribute to new retirees' supplemental health insurance after they reach Medicare age.

"I have a big incentive to retire," Proska, 62, said after the Finance Committee made the changes Tuesday, which do not need approval by the full County Board. She said she knows she is not alone in seriously considering retirement.


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