Andrew Trzaska | December 9, 2011
Muskegon County’s board of commissioners approved new union contracts with three large bargaining units at Thursday’s meeting, ending a process whose early stages started months, if not years ago.
Settlements with the district court, Community Mental Health aide and general employees units of the Teamsters union each received 8-1 votes. Commissioner Alan Jager voted no on the measures, and Commissioners Bob Scolnik and Jim Derezinski were absent from Thursday’s meeting.
One concerned citizen asked about the level of medical coverage the new agreements provided. Citing future legacy costs that may need to be paid, the citizen claimed the plans were so-called “Cadillac” plans, which cover lots of extras including vision and dental care.
Board chairman Ken Mahoney answered the question by explaining employees would be contributing more to their health coverage:
“Our employees have basically stepped up to the plate and taken some hits in terms of health contributions and retirement contributions,” said Mahoney. “They have taken some sacrifices because they realize the county needs them at this point.”
Board vice-chairman Snider cited previous exposure of the county deals in the media and pointed out the negotiations were several years in the making.
“This was a process that was initiated a number of years ago in which we changed a lot of things in favor of the taxpayer,” said Snider. “I’d like to think contracts here are well thought out.”
Commissioner Jager’s no vote centered on the desire to see a contribution plan that was more reliable for the county to budget. Jager’s concerns cited moves by the U.S. military, the U.S. Postal Service and Muskegon Township to move away from benefits plans like the one the county just approved.
After Thursday’s meeting, Jager also cited Muskegon Heights Public Schools, who saw their legacy and benefits costs explode in recent years, including health care costs. The budget shortfalls these led to recently led the district’s superintendent to step down and the school board to request an emergency financial manager.