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Other county workers face pay, health benefit changes

November 7, 2017 GMT

Lane County elected officials and more than 200 other non-union-represented county government employees likely will start paying toward their health insurance premiums next year for the first time.

But nearly all of them also could receive annual raises during the next three years that would more than cover the $240 to $840 a year they would pay toward their health plans. The proposed 2 percent pay raises for each of the next three years would come on top of annual step increases non-represented employees receive until they hit the top of their pay scale, typically ranging from a high of 6.3 percent to a low of 4.3 percent.

The proposal comes after a weeklong strike by more than 500 union-represented county workers in October, partly over their resistance to start paying toward their health plan premiums. The county and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees eventually struck a deal that gives workers cost-of-living and step pay increases, plus small market adjustments for more than half of the workers. The agreement also requires them to start making health care premium payments in July.

Lane County commissioners are expected to pass an order Tuesday requiring identical $20 to $70 monthly payments from nonrepresented employees starting in July. Nonrepresented employees include many workers on the higher end of the county’s pay scale, such as department directors, managers and supervisors. The change also would apply to elected officials such as the commissioners, the county sheriff and the district attorney.

As last month’s strike sent AFSCME-represented employees onto picket lines for a week, many striking workers noted that the county was asking them to make health insurance premium payments without asking the same of better-paid employees.

Lane County spokeswoman Devon Ashbridge said the change for nonrepresented employees was planned several years ago, but it wasn’t scheduled for a vote by commissioners until all of the county’s seven employee bargaining units had settled contracts from 2016 onward. AFSCME represented the final two bargaining units to sign a new contract.

“It has been the stated intent to move all employees to the same health care plans for a few years now, and it had been stated that nonrepresented employees would make that change after all the represented groups had negotiated,” Ashbridge said. “It really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.”

But the order up for a vote by commissioners Tuesday also would give 2 percent annual cost-of-living increases to nonrepresented employees for three years. That would be in addition to annual step increases that employees receive based on seniority.

Of the roughly 236 nonrepresented county employees, 104 haven’t yet reached the top step in their job classification, meaning those workers would receive annual step increases on top of the cost-of-living raises.

Under the current wage scale, step increases for nonrepresented employees generally range from a high of about 6.3 percent a year to a low of about 4.3 percent a year, depending on the worker’s seniority level, job duties and other factors.

The cost-of-living and step raises wouldn’t apply to elected officials — county commissioners approved 13.7 percent raises for themselves and a 3.7 percent raise for the sheriff last year. The changes also would exclude physicians employed by the county, whose contract terms are set separately.

A memo attached to the commissioners’ Tuesday meeting agenda notes that nonrepresented employees have received a single 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise and one “market adjustment” that boosted wages by an average of 3.4 percent since 2009. Those were in addition to step raises during those years.

The proposed cost-of-living raises for the nonrepresented employees would cost the county about $2.3 million more than current spending estimates over three years. That’s about $9,750 per worker over that time. That doesn’t include the value of step increases.

The order also would establish a review next year for nonrepresented employees whose salaries have been identified as out of alignment with county government workers in comparable Oregon counties.

In other county business Tuesday, commissioners are expected to approve stricter requirements for businesses in west Eugene seeking tax breaks under the state’s enterprise zone incentive program.

The West Eugene Enterprise Zone, established by the county and the city of Eugene in 2005, provides qualifying manufacturers and other nonretail businesses with up to five consecutive years of property tax waivers on the value of a new or improved building, or upgraded equipment that would increase a property’s taxable value.

In addition to state-mandated employment-level and wage requirements for such businesses, local governments can impose additional “public benefit” criteria companies must meet to claim the full value of a tax waiver. Examples include credit for providing employee retirement plans, child care programs or opportunities for job training and advancement.

Businesses that don’t meet enough of the public benefit criteria could be required to repay up to one-quarter of the value of the property tax breaks received through the enterprise zone deal.

The order up for a vote Tuesday would add new public benefit criteria for applying businesses to meet, such as the use of operating equipment obtained from within Lane County or the state, use of city and county pollution prevention programs, and emphasis on hiring women and minority workers.

The Eugene City Council approved the changes in July. If commissioners approve the changes, they would take effect immediately after the vote.

The change comes after New York-based manufacturer Corning Inc. bought the largest building in the West Eugene Enterprise Zone, the shuttered 1.2 million-square-foot former Hynix computer chip plant, in an online auction Sept. 27.

Follow Elon Glucklich on Twitter @EGlucklich . Email elon.glucklich@registerguard.com .