County Employees Not Happy about Handbook

An April 30 special meeting of the Door County Board of Supervisors gave an indication of the shape of things to come for county employees who will see their seven-year union contracts come to an end this year.

Four of six county bargaining units – amounting to more than 200 employees – will lose their ability to bargain for anything other than base wages come Jan. 1, 2014. County law enforcement and emergency personnel retain their bargaining rights and are expected to be at the negotiating table this month.

“We have, finally, the ability to implement the tools that were given to us as part of Acts 10 and 32 [respectively, the Budget Repair Bill and Biennial Budget Bill enacted in 2011 that ended collective bargaining for most state employees],” Door County Administrator Maureen Murphy told the board as they went through details of a new employee handbook created by department heads.

“This is the legal framework that sets forth how things are going to operate on a macro-level going forward,” Murphy said, adding that a larger administrative manual will be coming later in the year with specific details of work schedules and responsibilities for employees in all county departments.

Health insurance is going to be one of the biggest changes facing county employees come 2014. The board called on Rae Anne Beaudry, executive vice president of The Horton Group, to highlight the changes. Beaudry has worked since late last summer with the Risk Management and Insurance Committee to come up with the new health insurance plan.

“Currently we have different groups paying different amounts toward their health insurance premium contribution,” Beaudry said. “For the collective bargaining groups this has been generally lower than most of the state, particularly since post-Act 10 and 32. But for the non-collectively bargained groups, they’ve been paying significantly higher than your comparables throughout the state, or roughly about 15 percent and they pay more out of pocket.”

The plan now would start everyone at a 15 percent insurance premium contribution, with the ability to reduce that amount to 12.8 percent (the state average) when an employee successfully participates in a wellness program. They can also expect higher out-of-pocket deductibles ($1,000 single/$2,000 family) and loss of a maximum co-pay for prescriptions.

“This is a big change for most of the county employees,” Murphy said. “They haven’t seen any change in [more than] seven years. It’s going to take some time for them to understand how the world works.”

She added that carriers may change regularly in the future and other tweaks will occur as budgetary needs arise.

Representing courthouse employees, the county’s largest bargaining unit, Sarah Bryan said employees are frustrated that their union representatives were not part of the employee handbook process. She said employees wanted to attend the special meeting and speak, but were afraid of blacklisting if they spoke out against the employee handbook.

“We’ve been in negotiation for [more than] 30 years with the county. We never had issues sitting down with the county before,” Bryan said. “We would have liked to have seen us working together instead of the employee handbook being produced behind closed doors. We would have liked to have had some say and work with the county board in respect to this. Unfortunately, a lot of employees were afraid to attend this meeting and speak up.”

Bryan said the county’s decision to cut out employees completely from the decision-making process is affecting morale. She said the greatest fear is that come 2014, employees can be disciplined or terminated without just cause.

“They haven’t written the final policy, but my take is the HR director or someone from the county board will have the final say how the employee will be disciplined. We will not have the Step One, going before the Administrative Committee and presenting our case. We will not have the arbitration process. The employees will not have any protection. It will be in the hands of what we call ‘The 3rd floor’.”

One supervisor voiced his appreciation for the new system.

“I always felt like, for myself, I was being held for ransom or something by the union,” said Fisher, who represents the 10th District of southeast Sturgeon Bay. “I just didn’t feel they were bargaining with me on a really one-to-one fair basis. It was like they had all the power and we had to listen to them. Things have changed.”

He added that the county board will not treat employees “like doormats.”

“We say ‘valuable members of the team.’ We do mean that,” he said. “They will be well treated and considered when we make any decisions that we have the right to make from this point on.”