McHenry County approves $2 million in raises for most nonunion workers

Some County Board members expressed concerns about the new pay scale hurting retention of lower-wage workers

The McHenry County Board voted to make former Elgin School District U-46 administrator Diana Hartmann the next superintendent of the McHenry County Regional Office of Education on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock.

McHenry County will increase pay for many of its nonunion employees, which could add $2 million annually to its budget starting in 2023.

The changes were approved at the McHenry County Board meeting Tuesday night, despite efforts to table the item. Among the concerns raised was the discrepancy in the increases for lower-level employees compared with higher-paid staff, along with how it could affect the budget.

The recommended changes came from a study carried out by the Archer Co., a consulting firm based out of South Carolina.

County Board member Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake, noted those on the higher end of the pay scale are receiving more of an increase than those toward the bottom. He said that should be flipped based on how much trouble the county has had attracting lower-level employees.

“What I’ve heard is our biggest challenge is the attraction and retention of the line employees,” Thorsen said.

Noting the potential negative effect that disparity could have on the morale of lower-level employees, County Board member Jeffrey Schwartz, R-McHenry, asked that the proposal be tabled and discussed more at the Committee of the Whole meeting in July.

“Just because we have a study doesn’t mean we have to follow the thing as delivered,” he said.

In total, the changes will see the pay scales adjusted for nonunion employees, and 36 positions containing about 90 employees will be reclassified, according to county material. The recommendations also call for employees who have been in their position for an extended amount of time to get a pay increase.

About 435 of the county’s estimated 580 nonunion employees will see an increase in pay. About 300 of those will receive an increase based on the years they’ve spent in the position, according to the study. About 145 employees will not see an increase, County Administrator Peter Austin said Thursday.

“It was a thoughtful review on every position,” Austin said at the meeting.

The increase at the top is because of the county’s efforts in recent years to raise wages for those at the bottom of the scale, Austin said. Those toward the bottom of the pay scale already are paid closer to market rate, whereas those at the top were not.

The county also has seen some difficulty retaining higher-wage employees, Austin said Thursday. The county is competing with the private sector for jobs such as nurses or IT management, he said.

The county has a little less than 1,200 employees, about half of whom are part of a union, Director of Human Resources Cheryl Chukwu said Thursday.

The last time the nonunion pay scales were adjusted was five years ago, Chukwu said. The new pay scales should last about two years, she said. Currently, union employees see their wages negotiated every two or three years, Chukwu said.

Implementing the changes will cost about $850,000 this year and a little more than $2 million in 2023, according to county material.

County Board member Jim Kearns, R-Huntley, said he was worried about the cost to the budget, and said he didn’t thinks the changes would help the county’s ability to keep employees. County Board member John Collins, D-Crystal Lake, disagreed, saying revenue for the county has been strong recently.

“I think that not moving this forward tonight would be a great mistake for us and for our managers who are trying to keep people in place,” Collins said.