Contract is decided for county, deputies

A state arbitrator’s ruling has ended a two-year contract impasse between sworn McHenry County sheriff’s deputies and the County Board.

The Dec. 27 ruling splits the difference in the unresolved issues, siding with the Fraternal Order of Police on wages and with the county on lowering accrued compensatory time.

The FOP Unit 1, representing about 100 patrol officers and detectives, has been without a contract since Dec. 1, 2010. It is one of three FOP units representing sheriff’s employees – the other two represent correctional officers and civilian staff.

County Administrator Peter Austin informed the County Board of the arbitration ruling at its Thursday meeting. The board’s Human Resources Committee, like all of the board’s standing committees, canceled its meetings in December as elected leaders hashed out members’ assignments after the Nov. 6 election.

“I’m happy it was resolved, but it took far too long to get to this point. But that was beyond both our control and the FOP’s control,” Austin said Friday.

Arbitration is used to resolve contract disputes between governments and workers such as police officers who are forbidden by law from striking. Both sides put out their final offers on unresolved issues and the arbitrator chooses one side or the other on each issue.

Arbitrator Edwin Benn granted the union its wage increase request of 2 percent and 2.75 percent retroactive to 2011 and 2012, and 3 percent for 2013 and 2014. The county’s final offer had been a six-month freeze for 2011, with a 2 percent raise in the second half of the year, followed by a 2 percent raise for 2012, 2.75 percent for 2013 and 3 percent for 2014.

Union attorney John Roche said he was satisfied with the contract.

“Had the parties been able to agree on wages, I think the other issues would have been resolved,” Roche said.

Benn sided with the county’s plan to pare the maximum amount of comp time that union members can accrue. The county’s proposal gradually lowers the maximum amount that can be carried over year to year from 160 hours to 120 by 2014, with payouts to bring members who have accrued more than that into sync. The union’s final offer proposed a maximum of 130 hours by 2014, but with no forced payouts.

A third issue – insurance benefits – in essence was settled when the FOP agreed to accept the county’s proposal in exchange for its final offer on wages.

The county’s insurance proposal goes to an 85/15 percent ratio for preferred medical providers, known as a PPO, and a small percentage increase on the contribution to an health maintenance organization, or HMO. The union’s insurance under its previous contract was a 90/10 percent PPO ratio.

County government has wanted all of its employees, union and non-union, to have identical insurance plans, and this contract is a step toward that goal, Human Resources Director Robert Ivetic said Friday.

“It was a good time to put forth changes to get all the contracts in sync so we wouldn’t have to have different plans,” Ivetic said.

Both sides had waited months for the ruling – the hearing was March 20 with final briefs turned in last May. One reason for the delay was that Benn was chosen to conduct an independent assessment of how to end the contract stalemate between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education.

The county currently is in arbitration with the Service Employees International Union Local 73 unit representing 14 nonmanagerial employees of Animal Control. The union, certified in 2009, falls under a law that allows unions with 35 or fewer members to go to arbitration if they reach an impasse in negotiating their first contract.

The SEIU Local 73 unit representing the county’s six deputy coroners fell under the same law. An arbitrator in May settled their dispute, almost four years after the coroners agreed to unionize.

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