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AFSME, county ODJFS reach agreement

The 75 members of the Association of Federal State County and Municipal Employees Local 3319 have a new contract with the Lawrence County office of the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

The new two-year pact was signed Thursday by the Lawrence County Commission. It is retroactive to Oct. 22, when the old contract expired.

Union leaders had issued an intent to strike earlier this week in an effort to get an agreement approved. Union Local President Diana Gettys said the union was concerned when the contract was not signed at the commission's Oct. 24 meeting. A tentative agreement was reached Oct. 17.

"We were a little apprehensive," Gettys said. "We were concerned about time constraints."

Local ODJFS Director Buddy Martin said the new contract includes a three-percent cost of living increase.

It also includes a new approach to health insurance aimed at holding down costs for the department and allowing employees more input in deciding what their coverage will be like.

Martin said the county will pay a specific amount each year into an insurance bank administered by the county auditor's office. This way each employee can decide what their insurance needs are and how to spend their

banked insurance dollars.

"They can continue with the county's insurance carrier, pick and choose from that carrier's offering, or go on their own and find health insurance that is more suitable to them," Martin said.

Martin said the county can draw interest off the banked monies and use the interest to offset administration costs of the insurance bank.

"If you stay long enough and retire, or if you die and have money left, that amount is payable to the employee or their estate," Martin said.

Should an employee terminate work for any reason, unused monies banked in their name will stay in the system for three years, at which time it will be transferred to the ODJFS' child welfare agency.

Martin said he devised the plan to help hold down insurance costs that have increased steadily for a number of years. He said he does not know of any other agency that uses a similar system. He hopes in time the idea will actually save his department money.

"I was looking for something that an employer could use to project what insurance costs would be," Martin said.

All ODJFS employees who are not covered by any other health insurance plan, such as that of a spouse, are eligible for inclusion in the insurance bank.

"It looks like a situation where everybody wins and nobody loses," Martin said with a laugh. "But that's a scary thought."