Members pack Desmond over health care

Guild members packed a ballroom at the Desmond Monday to discuss contract negotiations and the proposed switch to a different health care plan next year.

Workers at the Desmond kept having to set up more chairs and tables and bring out more food because the number attending the meeting vastly exceeded the Guild’s expectations. One hundred members strong showed up, and the message was resounding.

Members said over and over — as they had at the Company’s health care discussions — that they wanted protection against the Company jacking up the deductible in future years. While the Company has said it will cover all but $750 of the deductible in 2009, members worried that they could take a hit in future years or be faced with both the percentage of the health insurance they pay and their share of the deductible being raised.

Members also said that since the Company would save money next year, it made no sense to increase the percentage employees pay next year.

Guild bargainers brought that viewpoint to the negotiating table that afternoon. They presented a proposal, which you can read here, that locks in the deductible at $750 for the four years of a contract. It also says that for 2009, the percentage share would remain at 16 percent. The parties would negotiate the percentage in subsequent years in bargaining.

The Guild also called for the Company to continue to pay for routine eye exams, whether through a rider provided by MVP or directly if that is not available. (We work in a business where many of us stare at computer screens all day, after all.)

The union also said the Company should drop its effort to eliminate the cap on how much health insurance could increase in one year. The current language says that the health-care hike could not increase more than half the amount of the raise in the top scale of the lowest pay classification. Under the current contract, that raise is $17.35 a week, meaning the employee’s weekly share of health-care costs could not rise more than $8.67. That is a more than reasonable limitation.

The Guild decided to bargain health care separately from the contract because January 1 is fast approaching. However, our contract requires that any plan offered by the Times Union be “comparable” to the one we have now. MVP’s high-deductible plan is not, so an agreement must be reached with the union and ratified by the membership for the switch to take place.

Should the Company attempt to switch everyone without such an agreement, it would certainly face the filing of a grievance that would be taken to arbitration. We believe it is in both parties’ interest to negotiate a settlement instead, provided it is a reasonable one.

The Company is expected to respond at the next bargaining session at 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 1. Members may attend on their own time.

Members asked if the union would be giving up leverage in contract talks by negotiating the health insurance separately. “What other leverage would the union have?” Guild leaders were asked.

Guild President Tim O’Brien gestured at the packed ballroom. “The leverage that we have,” he said, “is all of you.”


  • John Runfola

    Tim and the Bargaining Team:
    Congratulations on a very successful meeting. Guild members should also congratulate themselves for standing up for what is right. It was wonderful to see the room bulging with fellow members.
    Negotiatiors need to remember that $750 is far more than a week of take home pay for the average member. That is real money to me.
    Please preserve the financial incentive if a member chooses to use the medical care of a spouse, with perhaps an exception for married couples employed at the Times Union. This would help ease the financial burden on some members and would help the company by making their bill smaller.
    Bottom line, big companies like the Hearst Corp. need to get behind national health care. McDonald’s manages to make lots of money in England, France and Germany, where even burger workers get health care. Why can’t we do it in the United States?
    Yours in unionism:
    John Runfola

  • Cathy Woodruff

    I continue to be puzzled by the company’s contention that this is a “comparable” plan. The whole setup is different. The most significant difference I see right now is that, even if the plan were to save a member money over the course of a year, the first few months could be quite tight, what with paying for all of that medical care and prescriptions out of pocket until reaching the deductible amount.
    That’s just not something that many of us have built into our budgets.
    Other aspects of the plan are quite different, too, and would require adjustments for members.
    My point is that while some aspects of the new plan may even be preferable, it is not a comparable plan. That means that the right thing to do is to negotiate it. I appreciate the Guild team’s willingness to do this.

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