Park Ridge mayor vetoes union contract over health care concerns

Park Ridge City Hall.  |  Sun-Times Media Files
Park Ridge City Hall. | Sun-Times Media Files

Park Ridge Mayor David Schmidt has vetoed a contract between the city and the International Union of Operating Engineers, as uncertainties remain over a change in way the city workers get health care.

The contract would replace the 28 union members’ current health care package through the city with a plan that would be bought through the union. The deal could potentially net around $70,000 in annual savings, according to preliminary analyses. If finalized, the agreement would run through April 2017.

In an email declaring the mayoral veto, Schmidt said that while he appreciated the sentiment of the contract’s health care scheme, he felt that “the projected costs and purported savings for the 2016-17 fiscal years are too uncertain.” Schmidt added that he may have voted differently if the contract had included a renegotiation clause for wages and health insurance coverage in those last two years of the agreement.

“It is my hope that the negotiators for the city and the union will be able to come to an agreement which protects the taxpayers and is still a good deal for the employees,” he said.

Park Ridge’s public works employees are represented by the union’s Local 150 office, which covers around 70,000 workers in 52 municipalities throughout Northern Illinois, Iowa and Indiana.

Under the agreement, beginning in May 2014 the city would shell out $525 per month for single employee plans and $1,500 for family plans to the union’s health care fund. Those contributions would increase to $700 and $1,700 per month by 2016. The new insurance plan, which would be purchased through the union instead of the city, would allow employees to use out-of-network physicians, stipulating possible higher costs for employees who would see between 1 percent and 1.75 percent in pay raises over the course of the contract.

Local 150 spokesperson Ed Maher said that instead of worrying about missing out on potential savings, Schmidt should be focused on locking in protections for taxpayers and employees against spikes in health care costs that could likely come in the next few years.

“The idea that the Affordable Care Act — especially right now as it rolls out and is completely unfunded — is going result in municipal cost savings for health care is absurd,” said Maher.

City Council voted 4-3 to approve the contract last month, amidst concerns about how the new plan would shake out financially in the long run.

“The idea to look at reducing the city’s insurance cost is a good one,” wrote Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th), who voted against the contract, in a Feb. 4 letter to City Manager Shawn Hamilton, “but I think we need to understand how all parties (union, employee, tax payer) make out on the deal, and what risks they are transferring or accepting in the process.”

Debate over the contract’s health care proviso reopened last summer when the union filed unfair labor practice complaint the city because it believed that employees were being overcharged for health insurance co-payments per their agreement, which was finalized in May. Citing communication issues, the city launched a countersuit in which it accused the union of “bad faith bargaining.” Both complaints would be dropped if a new agreement is reached.

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