Thousands of county workers voted to ratify a new three-year, $47.5 million contract with the county, giving them increased retirement health benefits.
About 4,000 employees with the Service Employees International Union, along with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 829 have worked without a contract since Nov. 6.
Workers had called for an overhaul of the current system that ties retirement health benefits to the number of unused sick days an employee accrues, which essentially caps payments after about five years. Female union members called the policy discriminatory, because those who took time off to rear children or care for elderly family members often ended up with fewer years of benefits.
The contract, while still linking retiree benefits to unused sick days, increases the county’s monthly health benefit payment from $175, on average, to $400 a month, according to negotiator Lance Henderson.
The new contract, while not as good as some in surrounding counties, is a big improvement, Henderson said.
Employees with 15 years service will also get a 2 percent annual increase in retiree health benefits, capped at 90 percent of the county’s cheapest health care plan. Those with 20 years service will receive a 4 percent annual increase, with the same cap, according to the SEIU.
Employees with two decades’ service will get 288 additional hours of sick leave, which if unused would essentially extend how long they receive monthly retirement health payments, Henderson said.
"We’re pleased to have an agreement with the two unions and we hope it is beneficial for both them and the county," said Tim Sullivan, the county’s assistant personnel director. The county resisted overhauling the system, concerned that it could require a jump in county health care costs as health expenses increase, possibly wreaking havoc on long-term budgeting.