Employees ‘feeling betrayed’ over Lake County’s cuts to insurance contributions, circuit clerk says

Employees ‘feeling betrayed’ over Lake County’s cuts to insurance contributions, circuit clerk says

Frank Abderholden
5–6 minutes

The passage of a new health insurance plan by the Lake County Board this week drew warnings from the circuit court clerk and the union representing employees in that department to reconsider part of the plan or face an unfair labor practice charge.

Circuit Court Clerk Erin Cartwright Weinstein called on the board to reject the plan because many of her employees had been encouraged to open a Health Savings Account (HSA) as part of their insurance coverage because it would cost the county less.

Under the new proposal, the county’s contribution to the HSA would be reduced by $50 for single coverage and $100 for family coverage for the second year in a row. The county presently pays $1,200 for single coverage and $2,400 for family.

“My employees have come to me feeling betrayed that they were made a promise that the deductible was going to be given to them in exchange for the county being able to use a health insurance plan that would be less expensive to the county overall,” Weinstein said at Tuesday’s County Board meeting.

“My employees are basically being paid barely a living wage. This $50 and $100 annually towards their health care is a big deal. It’s a huge impact,” she added. “How do we justify $293,000 to maintain native plants along county highways, but not take care of our employees?”

Referring to similar comments she offered at a board committee meeting last week, Weinstein added that she was “discouraged (that) the only response from County Board members at the time was concern over the cost of a potential lawsuit.”

Colin Theis, a staff representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 — which represents around 105 circuit court employees who are not managers or supervisors, along with employees of the coroner’s office — also warned that any unilateral changes without negotiations would be considered an unfair labor practice.

“We have six months to file an unfair labor practice (charge), and we have some negotiation sessions coming up. We’re getting close,” he said when asked Thursday when the charge would be filed.

Theis thanked Weinstein “for standing up for her employees” in front of the County Board. He said the cost savings of the measure was $50,000 to $75,000, and considering the county’s 2018 budget is $437 million, he added that the change is literally a fraction of a percent of the overall budget.

Some of the other changes in the insurance plan included a 5.7 percent increase in premiums for all employees and an additional 2 percent increase for those choosing a premium Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) health plan.

The plan also calls for a premium subsidy for part-time employees of 25 percent if they work between 12 to 24 hours per week and a 50 percent subsidy for those working 25 hours to 37.5 hours per week.

County Board Member Sandy Hart of Lake Bluff voted against the health plan, but thanked the board for taking care of part-time employees, which county board members are also considered to be.

“Since we are part time staff, I’m thankful that it’s going to be offered to other part-time employees,” Hart said, adding that she would still be voting against the plan because of the other objections made by Weinstein. Both Hart and Weinstein are Democrats.

Theis said the increase in the HSA cost was the biggest problem, because even the 5.7 percent premium increase for a simple HMO “would be under $10 a month,” he said.

“Some employees make $25,000 per year, and that is not sustainable for the family in Lake County,” Theis added. “Court clerks are some of the lowest paid (employees) in the county — that’s why they joined a union. That, and they wanted everyone treated fairly.”

AFSCME won the right to represent the court clerks in August of 2014, but the union was unable to negotiate a contract with former clerk of the circuit court, Keith Brin. He then lost the election to Weinstein in the fall of 2016.

Besides Hart, board members Judy Martini of Fox Lake, Terry Wilke of Round Lake and Vance D. Wyatt of North Chicago voted against the health plan. Paul Frank of Highland Park recused himself from the vote for personal reasons.

County Administrator Barry Burton said Friday that the HSA account policy started with large contributions by the county, but the payments have been been scaling it back so they are more in line with the industry standards.

“We have had increased health insurance costs, but it is well below the national average,” he said.

He said most of the employees use the HMO option, which has a cap of $5,000 for out-of-pocket expenses, then everything is covered after that. The county self-insures, but contracts Blue Cross Blue Shield to administer the plan.

The single employee pays $61 per month and the county covers the remaining $686 of the premium. The employee pays 10.2 percent of the premium for a single under the Consumer Driven Health Plan and a family plan pays 14 percent of the premium.

“We want to be competitive and be a good employer,” Burton said.