After almost two years of negotiations, the Montgomery County Legislature is poised to approve a new contract for its CSEA public employee union, which will include raises, increased health insurance co-pays and retroactive bonuses for 2017.
The County Legislature’s Personnel Committee unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday supporting the new contract, which will have a total financial impact of $500,203 above the county budgets over the period from 2017-19.
Included in the new contract is a retroactive 2 percent base pay raise for 2018, a 2.5 percent raise for 2019, a 2.5 percent raise for 2020 and a 1.25 percent raise starting in January 2021, followed by another 1.25 percent raise in July of 2021.
The contract will retroactively pay bonuses, which do not raise employee base pay, for 2017. The size of the bonuses, which are one-time checks, depends on the hiring date of the employee, with a high of $1,250 for any CSEA employee hired before Jan. 1, 2017, then tapering to a $500 bonus for employees hired between July 1, 2017, and Sept. 30. Part-time employees hired before Jan. 1, 2017, get a $625 bonus, which diminishes to a $250 bonus for part-timers hired between July 1, 2017, and Sept. 30.
The contract extension was ratified by the CSEA membership, which is the county’s largest union with about 240 members, in December. The contract was initially voted down by the membership after concerns about the county’s desire to increase emergency room co-pays.
“We were sticking to our priorities, and what we wanted to get done, so there was some skepticism that we could get a deal done in a timely fashion. I didn’t think we were going to be able to reach an agreement, but the mediation session did exactly what you would hope it would do. It helped us resolve that issue,” said Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort.
Ossenfort said the county was able to convince CSEA to agree to increase emergency room visit co-pays from $50 to $150.
“When we did our analysis of the [insurance] claims, there was something in the ballpark of $500,000 in unnecessary emergency room visits, so trying to do more with the resources we have and try to push people toward better decisions — that in the long run will save the county money,” Ossenfort said.
CSEA Vice President Mark Hoffman said he worked on the negotiating team with the county. He said his membership ultimately decided to accept the co-pay increase in exchange for larger base-pay increases during the contract.
“We’re trying to stress to our membership that unless you’re in an emergency, there are a lot of other avenues than the emergency room. People can use an online service through our insurance or call their primary physician,” he said. “The percentage raises were on the level of what most area negotiating units are getting, and they’re higher than what the nonbargaining [employees] nonbinding contract are getting,” Hoffman said.
Ossenfort said converting the base-pay percentage increase for 2017 into a bonus is helpful to the county because it’s only a one-time payment rather than increasing all future compensation for the unit members.
To pay for the raises, the county will need to add $392,145 to its operating budget for 2019. After the committee approved sending the new contract to the full board, County Finance Committee Chairman Michael Pepe, who represents District 7, warned the other members of the legislature that they will need to be extra diligent not to spend down the county’s fund balance for unanticipated expenses in 2019, because the raises have exhausted the budget’s contingency funds.
The full legislature is expected to approve the new contract on Jan. 29.