The impact of Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union bill will first be felt by nonunion employees.
Ninety-four Waupaca County employees who are not represented by a union will first see their gross wages cut by 5.8 percent when they receive their paycheck on April 8.
The nonrepresented employees include elected officials, managers, supervisors and confidential secretaries.
Under the bill that was enacted last week, public sector workers in Wisconsin will contribute 50 percent of their annual pension payment. That amounts to a 5.8 percent deduction in their pre-tax wages.
“All of our union contracts are in place until the end of this year,” according to Amanda Welch, the county personnel director.
The county employs 310 union workers. They, along with the nonunion county staff, have not had any pension fund contributions deducted from their paychecks. Unlike nonunion employees, the county employees who belong to unions will not see the impact on their take-home pay until January 2012.
Walker’s bill also requires state workers to pay at least 12 percent toward their health insurance premiums.
This provision will have no effect on Waupaca County’s employees because they are covered by a self-funded plan and already pay about 10 percent of the cost of their premiums.
“Our plan is less expensive than the state plan,” Welch said.
The county’s self-funded health care coverage for its employees began in 1981 and covers medical care, prescription drugs and dental.
In the 1990s, the county’s health insurance premiums were not keeping pace with the costs for claims. In 1999, the county paid $2.24 million in premiums and had health insurance costs of $2.35 million. The Waupaca County Board had to set aside nearly $110,000 to keep the fund liquid.
The county began increasing employee premiums in 2006. The county increased insurance premiums by 18 percent in 2008 and by 16 percent in 2009. Within two years, the funds year-end balance doubled.
The fund began 2010 with a $2.57 million balance. County employees paid a total of $6.04 million in premiums and the fund paid out $5.34 million in claims and administrative costs, leaving a year-end balance of $3.27 million.
Because the county has increased the size of the fund, there were no increases in the premiums in 2010 and 2011.
Welch said the county’s wellness program helped cut health care costs.
“Our wellness initiatives encouraged healthier lifestyles and preventive care,” Welch said, adding that the plan charges no deductibles for preventive care.
“If we continue to have a good year in 2011, we may decrease premiums to spend down some of the fund,” Welch said.
The component of Walker’s bill that stirred up protests across the state was his plan to eliminate collective bargaining in the public sector. This has led to concerns about labor turmoil.
Welch said the county has long had good relationships with its unions.
“My conversations with some of our union folks is that we must need to keep our lines of communication open,” Welch said. “We need to reassure our employees that changes are coming, but we don’t plan to cut benefits in any massive way. I think the county board will be cautious and continue to maintain good relationships with the unions.”