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County ratifying "win-win" union contract with nurses

Published: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 4:36 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 11:47 p.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board is in the process of ratifying a first contract with newly-unionized staff, breaking a streak of negotiations that have required arbitration.

Its contract with the 23 nurses at Valley Hi Nursing Home was the first in years that did not reach an impasse that needed to be broken by an arbitrator. State law allows unions with fewer than 35 members to go to arbitration for its first contract – arbitration exists to settle contract disputes with employees who are forbidden by law from striking, such as police officers.

The main reason the nurses’ contract went so smoothly is that a lot of the language was hashed out when Valley Hi’s support staff unionized, county Human Resources Director Robert Ivetic said. Both units are represented by Service Employees International Union Local 73.

“A lot of what we would consider boilerplate was done already. We didn’t have to go over all of that,” Ivetic said.

The County Board’s Human Resources and Finance and Audit committees voted Tuesday to recommend approval of the contract, and the Public Health and Human Services Committee is expected to sign off on it Wednesday. It will likely go to the full County Board for formal ratification at its May 20 meeting.

Under the contract, nurses will get a 2.5 percent raise retroactive to fiscal 2013, and a 2.75 percent raise for the current 2014 fiscal year.

The raise for 2015 will be either 2.5 percent or the raise given to the county’s nonunion employees, whichever is greater. The raise scale is identical to that of the contract with the nursing home’s support staff, which the County Board ratified last August.

The new SEIU unit represents 17 registered nurses and six licensed practical nurses.

The contract reduces the shift differential that nurses get for working later hours. The hourly increase for working a p.m. shift is cut in half from $1 to 50 cents, and the overnight differential decrease from $1 to 75 cents. The contract also states that the differential can only be collected for hours actually worked, and cannot be applied to paid time off. This policy and the reduction of the shift differential is expected to save about $16,000 a year.

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 half of the county government’s workforce is unionized, divided among 10 bargaining units.

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