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PI?employees to receive more money, change in health insurance

August 29, 2012
Jordan Travis - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

ROGERS CITY - More money is in order for Presque Isle County's three unionized groups of employees, along with changes in their health insurance policies to apply with a recent state mandate.

Presque Isle County sheriff's deputies and sergeants, steelworkers, emergency dispatchers and corrections employees will receive lump sums and new health insurance coverage options. It's all part of new three-year contracts for members of the Police Officers Labor Council's two units and the United Steelworkers approved by county commissioners Wednesday. The county reached a deal with courthouse employees, who do not belong to a union, similar to one with United Steelworkers members.

Board Chair Carl Altman said he's glad negotiations are complete.

"It's always a challenge every few years to deal with employee contracts," he said. "This year we dealt with all three union contracts, and had to work with the state-mandated cap" on what the county can pay for health insurance premiums.

Despite the new state law, the county will offer similar coverage as before without an additional cost to employees, Altman said.

Sheriff's deputies, corrections workers and emergency dispatchers will receive a $500 lump sum at the start of the new contract, according to the agreement. They'll get another $500 and a $500 increase in their base wage in July 2013 and 2014. Overall, their base wage will increase by 48 cents over three years. It's the first raise the two employee groups have received in a number of years, personnel committee Chairman Steve Lang said.

Deputies will get a higher uniform allowance, set to increase by $100, Lang said.

For United Steelworkers members, the new job probationary period has been changed back to 60 working days. While they also will receive lump sum payments each year of the contract term, they won't carry through in the form of wage increases into the next year, Commissioner Robert Schell said. He worked with Lang on negotiations, and explained the lump sum payments of $700 in the first year and $400 in the second and third are one-time deals.

All county employees affected by these deals will see a change in their health care policies in order to comply to a state-mandated cap, Lang said. A state law signed in 2011 means public employees must pay 20 percent of their health insurance premium costs, or the employer is limited to a set dollar amount on how much it can spend on premiums.

To meet the requirement, the county will provide two options, Lang said. One coverage option is the same as what employees currently have, and the third would be to opt out of coverage and receive money for a flexible spending account card.

Another change will be how the county reimburses prescriptions, Lang said. Employees will pay either a co-pay or percentage of the medication's cost, and the county will no longer reimburse for brand-name medications.

"That's where the savings come from to get us under the cap," he said.

The county agreed to pay for a service known as "dial a doc," Lang said. Anyone with a medical issue not requiring emergency care can call a number, describe the problem and be connected with a local doctor. It's free to employees, and the county will cover the $4-per-employee annual cost.

"Experience has shown that has cut down emergency room visits by a third," Schell said. "Hopefully this should cut down future increases in health care."

United Steelworkers members, corrections and courthouse employees, along with emergency dispatchers, will pay an additional 1 percent toward their Municipal Employee Retirement System accounts, Lang said. This brings the total to 4 percent of their wages. Sheriff's deputies already pay five percent, and will not pay more under their new contract.

County courthouse employees will receive lump sum payments of $500 per year, but no base wage increases, similar to United Steelworkers members, Schell said.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688.

 
 

 

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