WILKES-BARRE — They have a contract.
Luzerne County Council members voted to approve the Teamsters Local 401 collective bargaining agreement Tuesday with many concessions made in the county’s favor.
With the county budget reopened and the county’s tax rate hanging in the balance, the four-year contract arrives as a boon at a time when officials are working to establish a working partnership with the labor force. Personnel is the largest expense in the county’s annual operating budget.
Of the most notable concessions, the union, which represents children and youth, aging and mental health employees, agreed to go without a general-wage increase for 2014.
“These aren’t the highest-paid individuals for the most part. They accepted the zero percent increase in 2014, and obviously that helps the county’s financial situation,” county Chief Solicitor David Pedri said.
The general-wage increase will begin with a 2.5-percent increase in 2015, go to a 2-percent increase in 2016 and a 2-percent increase in 2017, after which the contract will be up for renegotiation, said Andrew Check, county human resources director.
The union, which has about 320 members who work for the county, also agreed to switch to a single insurance carrier.
Employees will bear 10 percent of the insurance premium starting in 2015. This year is considered a transitional year, and the insurance premium will be calculated the same as last year, Check said.
“We’re holding it for one year in (2014) at what would have been the 2013 cost structure for the total premium cost,” he said.
Per the new agreement, employees will pay a $500 deductible for hospital stays with a $1,000 deductible for families of two or more. Employees will pay a $10 co-pay for doctor’s visits, the same as before the new contract. There are some policy provisions changes for specialist visits and other medical services.
The final agreement also includes adjustments to bring the contract into compliance with the county’s home rule personnel code, Check said.
Of the most salient changes, new employees will be allowed 10 days sick leave. Existing employees will remain at 16 days, Check said.
Should eliminated positions be restored, employees who held those positions will be given recall rights for up to 12 months after they were furloughed. They were allowed up to 18 months under the old contract.
Other changes include:
• The sick-leave buyback option will be eliminated at start of 2015.
• Time off allowed under the Family Medical Leave Act will remain at 26 weeks for existing employees. New employees will be allowed 12 weeks off.
• Existing employees will be able to carry over up to 35 unused vacation days from one year to the next. New employees will be allowed to carry over 20.
• Employees must work full-time to qualify for health insurance.