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Nursing home staff OK's county's offer

OAK HARBOR - A one-day strike set for today at Ottawa County's Riverview Nursing Home was averted as union workers approved an agreement with the county, 64-8, that delays payment of monthly health insurance premiums until May 1.

The county and Unit 1199 of Service Employees International Union agreed to terms Wednesday night during a five-hour negotiating session with state mediators.

The agreement allows the county to charge health insurance premiums to nursing home employees, albeit four months after other county employees began to pay.

But county Administrator Jere Witt said: “I wouldn't phrase it a victory or not a victory. It's a resolution of an issue. We're happy we're moving on and operating the nursing home for the residents.”

Union nursing home employees will pay $10 for individual coverage and $25 for family coverage beginning May 1, instead of having to pay the premium retroactive to Jan. 1.

“That is a major step we made to have some type of control of our destiny,” Hank Price, Unit 1199 organizer, said. “We didn't get exactly what we wanted, but the county didn't get exactly what they wanted.”

The county agreed that premiums will not increase until January, 2003, and then by only $10 through 2004. Mr. Price said the premium caps are “a very positive thing.”

The county late last year proposed that employees pay premiums because of cost increases in the county's self-funded health insurance plan.

Most county employees began paying Jan. 1, but the charge to union nursing home and sheriff's office employees had to be negotiated.

Unit 1199 argued that Riverview workers, who average about $8 an hour, make less than other county employees and can't afford the charges.

A fact-finder took the county's side in the dispute, and union members rejected his report, leading to further negotiations and the union's calling of a one-day strike, which was to begin at 7 a.m.

Unit 1199 includes certified nurse aides, rehabilitation aides, and laundry, dietary, and housekeeping workers.

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