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Stroger agrees to pay raise deal for non-union workers

Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Setting the stage for a possible tax increase, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger agreed Monday to give the county's 6,200 non-union workers retroactive pay increases and a nearly 5 percent raise next year, saying the County Board must find a way to pay for the deal.

Stroger's proposal, which goes to the board Tuesday for approval, should end his running conflict with county prosecutors, who contend their non-union pay lags that of public defenders, who are unionized.

It also increases pressure on an already tough budget situation. The deal, combined with contractual obligations to the county's heavily unionized workforce, means the county must come up with $113 million more in 2008 for wages and benefits.
"The commissioners are committed to working on finding funds to pay for [the raises] in the future," Stroger said at a news conference Monday where he announced the deal with State's Atty. Richard Devine. "I can say if we don't have some kind of increase that we would have to cut services so severely that there would be some real hardships for a lot of people in the county."

The proposal comes in the wake of drastic budget cutting that resulted in layoffs of county doctors, nurses and other employees and closings of medical clinics. Just last week, Stroger urged state lawmakers to grant a $100 million bailout for the county health system but he and commissioners said Monday the pay raises should not hinder that effort in Springfield.

"Hopefully the members of the General Assembly would not hold this against us," said Commissioner John Daley, chairman of the county's Finance Committee. "If they do, shame on them."

Daley said all taxes should be considered as the county looks to start crafting its 2008 budget. Last week, Stroger flatly ruled out a property tax increase for next year but left open all other options.

Stroger said a $21 million windfall from a legal case involving asbestos contamination would be used to pay for an 8 percent cost-of-living adjustment retroactive to 2004 and a $500 bonus for prosecutors and lawyers in the county's public guardian office.

The remainder of that windfall would be used to give the rest of the county's non-union workers a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment retroactive to June 1, plus a $1,000 bonus.

"It's a fair deal," said Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), who helped negotiate the agreement. "It shows our respect for everybody. It's the best deal that we could get."

For prosecutors, the deal will mean a nearly 20 percent cumulative pay raise come 2008 compared to what they were making at the start of this year.

Stroger agreed to give prosecutors a raise that averaged about 7 percent in the 2007 budget to put them on equal footing with public defenders, but it did not cover recent cost of living increases.

Prosecutors have complained that although their starting salaries are higher, rank-and-file assistant public defenders rapidly move past them on the pay scale.

The state's attorney's office says a prosecutor with seven years' experience makes on average $70,000, while a public defender with the same experience makes about $75,000.

But supervisors in the state's attorney's office earn more than their counterparts in the public defender's office. Exact comparisons are difficult because the public defenders' pay is based on a negotiated scale and step system determined by years of service and responsibilities while the state's attorney has more leeway in setting his employees' wages.

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