Will County government’s union workers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve new four-year contracts.
The tentative agreements were reached early Wednesday, ending a 16-day strike, and still must be approved by the county board, which is scheduled to vote Dec. 19.
Voting was held from Thursday at the Holiday Inn, 411 S. Larkin Ave., Joliet, on separate contracts for five bargaining units represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028.
Local 1028 president Dave Delrose said members ratified all five contracts by a 95 percent margin. He gave credit for the settlement to the membership.
The contracts — retroactive to Dec. 1, 2012 — give workers a cost-of-living raise of 4.5 percent phased in over the next two years. The raises will be 1 percent Jan. 1, 1 percent when a new health insurance payment program takes effect next year, 1.5 percent Jan. 1, 2015, and 1 percent Jan. 1, 2016.
Those raises are on top of the 2.5 percent “step” increases on the pay scale that members now get for each additional year of employment — meaning a total 14.5 percent pay increase by the end of 2016.
Also, the two bottom steps on the pay scale will be removed in mid-2015, which will increase each scale step by 5 percent.
The contracts shift more of the cost of health insurance to employees. In the past, they paid 1 to 2 percent of their salaries for coverage. Under the new terms, they will pay 8 to 10 percent of the cost of premiums over the next three years.
In some cases, insurance payments will more than double for workers.
Union concerns that employees would be taking home less pay because of the shift in insurance payments triggered the strike. Caps on those payments and the removal of the lower pay steps paved the way for Wednesday’s agreement.
The union represents workers in the county court system, health department, highway department, Sunny Hill Nursing Home and county jail and in the offices of the sheriff, coroner, recorder, assessor, clerk, chief judge, circuit court clerk and county executive.
The strike resulted from an impasse over the insurance costs as well as cost-of-living raises. County officials said budget restrictions prevented them from offering more money, but union negotiators said employees would have less take-home pay if they agreed to the county’s offer.