WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board approved performance-based raises for its nonunion staff and a first contract with the latest group of county employees to unionize.
Members voted, 17-6, to approve merit-based increases for fiscal 2014 of up to 2.75 percent. They also voted, 16-7, to approve the county's first contract with about 100 nonmanagerial staff of Valley Hi Nursing Home, excluding registered nurses.
Opponents briefly commented before the pay-for-performance raise vote, but not before the vote to approve the contract with the new unit of Service Employees International Union Local 73.
County Board members who voted "yes" to both did not comment before the votes were taken.
Members Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, and Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, said raising wages for public-sector employees sends the wrong message to taxpayers.
"[I'm voting 'no'] not because I think our employees don't deserve to make good wages," Evertsen said. "I just don't feel that it's fair to raise wages for employees on the backs of those who are unemployed."
Evertsen noted the state unemployment rate in July ticked up to 9.2 percent. Illinois' unemployment rate is second only to Nevada's, according to U.S. Department of Labor data.
Provenzano also questioned giving out raises when the county is preparing for a second year to keep its levy flat and not collect the inflationary increase it is entitled to under the tax cap.
Board members who voted against nonunion staff raises were Evertsen, Provenzano, Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, and Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake. Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, joined them in voting against the SEIU contract.
The two votes in one night lay out the County Board's ongoing worries over staff compensation: Raise salaries and incur the wrath of constituents angry over public-sector salaries and benefits, or don't raise them and encourage staff to unionize.
The county recorder's office is unionizing, as did Valley Hi's 30 or so registered nurses, both of them through SEIU Local 73. Negotiations on the nurses' first contract are set to begin soon.
The three-year Valley Hi contract approved Tuesday sets hourly wages for 11 classes of employees, with raises of 2.5 percent this year and 2.75 percent next year. Raises for 2015 will be either 2.5 percent or whatever the County Board gives nonunion staff, whichever is greater.
"Both sides came out of this thinking it was a fair deal," board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said in her remarks before the vote.
One of the priorities for the County Board the past two fiscal years has been to try to achieve parity in raises for both union and nonunion employees. About 40 percent of the county government's workforce is unionized, divided among nine bargaining units.
Three recent contracts have gone all the way to binding arbitration, the most recent being with the SEIU unit representing Animal Control. An arbitrator in June sided with SEIU on Animal Control employees' wages, but sided with the county on equity adjustment and workday length,
How they voted
The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday to approve performance-based raises next year for nonunion county staff and approved its first contract with the newly-unionized staff of Valley Hi Nursing Home.
The raises passed on a 17-6 vote, with Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock; Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake; Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard; John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake; Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake; and Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, voting "no."
The contract with the Valley Hi unit of Service Employees International Union Local 73 passed on a 16-7 vote, with Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, also voting "no."
Board member Robert Nowak, R-Cary, was absent.