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County criticized over handling of insurance, wage changes

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By Sean Arnold

The Levy Board of County Commissioners Tuesday came under criticism during public comments for their handling of recent changes to insurance and wages for county employees.

The Board on July 18 voted unanimously to cap insurance payouts while offering tiered offsets in the form of increased wages.

Sally Ann Collins introduced the issue in public comments, lamenting the lack of transparency over the changes. She criticized the Board for voting on the changes during an afternoon budget meeting, rather than during it’s regular morning meeting.

“I’m here in hopes of allowing the public to become more aware of the pros and cons of what’s happening, since I had absolutely no idea of the ramifications of these changes until now,” Collins said.

Collins then invited up to speak Jeremiah Tattersall, of the North Central Florida Central Labor Council, which represents Florida AFL-CIO, a federation of local labor unions, in the 12-twelve county North Central Florida area.

Collins thanked the Board for the opportunity to address the issue, and, after defending the purpose and procedures of unions as democratically-run organizations that look out for the interests of workers, while noting most union members in Levy County are Republican, Tattersall criticized the county for failing to follow the traditional collective bargaining practices that come with public employee contracts.

“Even if the union doesn’t get anything much different, at least it’s a democratic process,” Tattersall said. “At least it’s a process in which the workers understand more about the budget, they understand the constraints that are facing the county, and they feel like their voice is respected.

“So I urge you to go to the bargaining table and actually talk about this insurance with the workers, hear their concerns, and come to a joint agreement, and then ratify that contract.”

The insurance changes would have the greatest effect on county employees that wish to sign up for family health insurance coverage, as they will be required to pay more out of pocket if they keep those premium family plans.

The wage offsets are tiered to give lower paid employees more in wages – up to $3,000 a year – while other non-elected county employees will receive at least a $1,000 raise in annual salary.

The Board voted to max out payouts for employee insurance at $9,512 per employee, while increasing the average wage of full-time employees by $2,180.

Levy County spends an average of $12,488 per year on health insurance for its employees, according to its most recent data.

Under the new changes, employees that sign up for the premium family plan will have to pay approximately $5,500 more per year out of pocket, according to county figures.

BOCC chair John Meeks said he was advised by County Attorney Anne Bast Brown to not speak on the issue, citing that the county is currently engaged in union negotiations and could face grievances.

“There’s been suggestions that grievances will be filed, and any facts you want to lay out will come out in that process,” Brown advised Meeks.

A union representative at the meeting said a grievance has already been filed against the county, but Brown and Meeks said they were unaware of it.

“At the time, everyone felt we were within the bounds of our understanding of the contract,” Meeks said. “Now we’ve been challenged on that, and so we’ll go through this process.”

Linda Cooper added to the criticisms against the Board for what she said was insufficient planning on the issue, both in the long term, when it comes to the national trend of rising insurance costs, and on the alleged lack of effective legal counsel it received before voting on the insurance resolution on July 18. She says the move could cost the county more in legal counsel going forward.

Brown and Meeks said the county always relies on outside counsel to handle union negotiations.

Meeks also noted that this would be the first grievance filed against the county this year, down from 42 grievances filed the prior year.

Meeks also said he grew up in a union household and understood the value of unions.