Weather Updates

Preckwinkle says county workers need to sacrifice more

Updated: March 16, 2011 4:27PM

Acknowledging she used a lot of one-time funding sources to balance her first budget, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says that a spending overhaul in the coming years will require sacrifice from the roughly 23,000 employees on the county’s payroll.

While refinancing debt, drawing on tax-increment-funding dollars, even handing 10 unpaid days off to most county employees helped plug a $487 million hole in this year’s $3.1 billion county spending plan, Preckwinkle said long-term solutions will likely mean county employees will have to pick up a larger share of health-care costs and pay more for pension benefits.

“We pay about 4 percent of our health-care costs. I think that over the long term, that’s just not sustainable. We have to step up as employees and pay a greater proportion of our health care,” Preckwinkle told reporters Wednesday, echoing some of the same comments she made to the Sun-Times in an article about her first 100 days in office.

Preckwinkle talked on the campaign trail last year and said again Wednesday that, going back in time, public employees were not always paid the equivalent of those in the private sector, but that a good benefits package offset that.

“But what’s happened over time — in part frankly because of the effectiveness of unions in advocating for their employees — is that the salaries are more comparable, much more comparable and we still have really good benefits in comparison to people in the private sector,” she said, adding: “We’re now in a position where public employees are seen as privileged in relation to the rest of the population because we have decent salaries and very good benefits.”

She added: “I’m 63-years-old and I’d like to have a pension and I want to make sure our pension system is healthy, but that means we’re going to have to make some changes … ordinary people are going to have to contribute more to their pension funds.”

An audit of the offices under her purview, including a look at staff, their job descriptions and pay, is winding up and aims to set up consistent performance reviews but also justify salaries.

But already, Preckwinkle has concerns about tenure-based raises countywide.

“It’s based simply on tenure and not performance or increased skill levels,” she said.

With about 80 percent of the county’s payroll unionized, any changes in compensation will have to be negotiated.

“So there are a lot of things we have to look into and talk to our labor unions about — as I said — that create a situation that’s not sustainable over the long-term.”

Cost-savings stretch beyond staff compensation, she said, ranging from annexing some of the 51 miles of unincorporated Cook County to local municipalities, which could save the county about $55 million annually, to eliminating redundant operations.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.