ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday evening unanimously voted to approve a new union workers' contract for Cedarbrook Nursing Home employees that will remain in effect through 2016.

The new agreement provides 523 employees with 1.5 percent retroactive pay raises for 2014 and 2.5 percent raises for 2015 and 2016 respectively, for workers at both the Salisbury Township and Fountain Hill locations. 

Employee concessions include reducing sick time off to a maximum of six days annually for full-time workers.

Prior to their actual voting, the commissioners voiced their concerns that once the union contract they labeled as "fair" was passed and put into effect, the much larger problem of how to keep Cedarbrook afloat financially still looms in the air.

Commissioner Michael Schware remarked, "I have mixed emotions here....I plan on voting for this contract tonight, but the much bigger problem is: how do we close the financial gap from last year's shortfall of $6 million?"

He said it is unacceptable to infuse further taxpayer dollars into the cash-strapped nursing homes.             

Commissioners Amanda Holt and Vic Mazziotti labeled the contract fair and reasonable, but both immediately questioned, " How will Cedarbrook be funded next year?" Mazziotti added, "And how does the administration deal with a significant deficit?" "County plans are weak and we're in for a really tough time with the 2015 budget", he said.       

Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller said the 2015 budget will be released at the end of August and remarked the Cedarbrook finances may not be nearly as dire as the commissioners alluded.

The new contract received ratification from 90 percent of the membership of the Local 1776 United Food and Commercials Workers Union even though it saves money for the county by cutting workers' overtime and per diem substitute nurses in addition to increasing employee healthcare contributions.

Commissioner Brad Osborne said the contract "recognizes economic realities", and noted how impressed he was during the negotiations with the consistent positive feedback regarding the employees high quality work performance.

Schware remarked although Cedarbrook cost taxpayers $6 million last year, its employees are dedicated, hard-working, and offer high-quality care to the residents.