The Luzerne County administration proceeded with the layoff of 22 employees Tuesday to help close a $1.4 million gap in the 2014 budget, officials said.
Most, if not all, of the impacted employees are in the rank-and-file residual union and court-related unions represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), officials said. The county employs about 1,400.
The administration had originally projected as many as 36 workers would be furloughed, but the number was decreased largely due to the recent retirement of several employees who won’t be replaced, officials said.
As part of the deficit-reduction plan, the county also has decided to push through all three health care concessions rejected by many union workers — a $500 hospital stay deductible, higher copayments and switching from two to one insurance plans.
However, the county will pay the deductible and copayment increases for union workers until the concessions are negotiated into their collective bargaining agreements as they expire, officials said.
All three health care changes can be imposed on the county’s roughly 300 non-union employees without negotiations.
Legal expenses also had to be factored into the $1.4 million plan because union challenges are expected over the change to one provider. All 10 county union contracts say the county must provide employees with their choice of two managed care plans, with some specifically citing both Geisinger and Blue Cross.
County officials say they can’t offer a choice next year because Geisinger declined to participate due to the small number of county employees enrolled.
Employees received an email around 3 p.m. Tuesday notifying them of the switch to one insurance provider, but many were confused.
AFSCME union head Paula Schnelly said she was still in the dark around the time the email was sent. She was inundated with questions from 23 union workers who had received layoff notices because they were hopeful their furloughs would be rescinded.
“I’m still completely clueless,” Schnelly said at press time Tuesday.
Layoff notices had been sent to two employees in clerk of courts, two in the prothonotary’s office and one in register of wills in addition to workers in several other departments throughout the county, she said.
The administration is trying to negotiate the higher copayments and deductible into new agreements with five unions covered by contracts that expired Tuesday. These expired agreements cover employees at the prison, residual unit workers, assistant public defenders/district attorneys and workers in three human service departments — Aging, Children and Youth and Mental Health.
Contracts with the court-appointed professionals, court-appointed support staff and court-related unions expire the end of 2014. The detective contract expires the end of 2016.
The administration has argued the Blue Cross plan costs less, and that savings would benefit both the county and workers who must pay percentages toward health care as opposed to flat rates.
These percentage amounts haven’t increased since 2008, and county officials plan to base the payments on current costs next year.
The 10-percent contribution paid by non-union and many unionized employees now amounts to $526.50 per year for single coverage and $1,286 for family.
These annual payments would increase to $632 for single and $1,842 for family if the county converts only to the Blue Cross plan, according to numbers quoted to union leaders.
Annual 10-percent payments for single coverage would be $878 for Geisinger and $698 for Blue Cross if the county must continue providing both choices. Annual family coverage would cost the 10-percent employees $2,417 for Geisinger and $1,972 for Blue Cross under the two-choice scenario.
About 250 employees receive county health coverage through Geisinger, officials said. The email sent to workers Tuesday said these employees will be automatically transitioned to Blue Cross.