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Additional county workers will pay

One hundred and forty union workers have started paying for part of health insurance.

Another 140 Luzerne County government union employees started paying toward their health insurance on Jan. 1, leaving only two groups of employees who are still not contributing anything.

Non-union county workers have been paying part of their insurance premiums for seven years, and commissioners have been trying since then to add insurance contributions to the county’s 11 union contracts as they come up for negotiation.

To date, about 79 percent – or 1,340 – of the county’s 1,700 employees are contributing something toward insurance, according to county records.

Unionized assistant district attorneys/public defenders are not yet required to pay anything if they were hired before Jan. 1, 2006, while those hired after that date have been paying 10 percent.

Roughly 40 assistant district attorneys/public defenders belong to this union, which is represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The union’s contract expired at the end of 2009 and is currently in binding arbitration.

Commissioners are arguing in arbitration that the entire union should be paying 10 percent toward insurance, county minority Commissioner Stephen A. Urban said Monday.

The county prison system’s 322 union workers won’t start paying toward their insurance until Jan. 1, 2013, and their contribution will be a flat $60 per month, or $720 per year. That contract was awarded through binding arbitration.

Commissioners are shooting for 10 percent payments across the board, which currently equates to $526.50 per year for single coverage up to $1,286 for family.

The county’s roughly 300 non-union workers have been paying 10 percent since 2004. By the time that payment was imposed, employee contributions had already become commonplace in the private sector.

Getting the unions on board has been a challenge, officials say.

“It’s been a long process. It had to be done gradually over time because it had to be negotiated into the different contracts,” Urban said.

Unions have typically conceded to 10 percent contributions for newer employees and other lower monthly payments for more veteran workers.

For example, the latest addition – members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees residual union hired before 2001 – started paying $360 a year for single coverage and $900 a year for family on Jan. 1.

Members of the same union had already been paying 10 percent if they were hired after 2001.

Next January, all residual union members will have to pay 10 percent. That union includes the county’s 911 dispatchers, maintenance workers and many clerks.

Aside from the prison, only one other union – Court-Appointed Professionals – has entirely avoided the 10 percent payments, even for newer employees. Members of this union, which includes probation and domestic-relation officers, pay $480 a year for single coverage up to $1,140 for family coverage.

In addition to the assistant district attorneys/public defenders, county workers in four other unions have expired contracts, creating an opportunity for commissioners to attempt to switch more veteran workers to 10 percent contributions.

Contracts for these unions – Transportation, Children and Youth, Mental Health/Mental Retardation and the Agency on Aging – expired Dec. 31. They are all represented by the Teamsters.

Workers in all four unions pay $360 a year for single coverage and $900 for family if they were hired before Jan. 1, 2006. Those hired after that date pay 10 percent.

County officials have acknowledged that the county’s health plan is generous compared to the private sector. There is no deductible, and co-payments are $10 for both primary care and specialist visits.

The county paid roughly $15 million for health care last year, with about $1.2 million contributed by employees, county officials have said.

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