Vote Friday on health-care switch

Members will vote this Friday on the proposed switch to the MVP health-care plan, and the union is recommending a yes vote to approve the change.

The decision came after negotiations Friday. Executive Board members met briefly at 5 p.m. and voted 5-2 to send the proposal to a membership vote. Voting will be between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Friday. The results will be counted at the end of voting.

Both sides retained their positions: The union maintains that the MVP plan is not comparable to our existing one and therefore a membership ratification vote is required. The Company maintains that the plans are comparable and it can make the change without membership approval. However, the Company has agreed to allow us to use the cafeteria for the vote Friday.

If the membership were to vote the proposal down, the Company claims it can impose the agreement anyway. The Guild says it would take a grievance to arbitration if the Company were to attempt any such step, and an independent arbitrator would rule as to whether the two plans are comparible.

The Company agreed that it would cover all but $750 of the deductible in 2009 and if the parties retain the same plan in 2010. The Guild did not waive its right to bargain any future changes in the employee’s share of the deductible, and we continue to maintain the contractual language that the Company can only switch to a different plan if it is comparable.

Employees will be able to set up health savings plans through Berkshire Bank. In 2009, the Company will provide upfront payment up to $750 in the case of hardship if an employee requests it. The employee will then have to sign a written authorization to withhold salary to repay the Company. Employees will not be asked to provide proof of financial hardship.

“This plan will save money for most if not all employees as long as the employee share of the deductible remains where it is,” Guild President Tim O’Brien said. “While we do have concerns about what could happen in the future, we retain our right to bargain those changes. We also know that this switch will be a considerable cost savings to the Company. While we agreed to separate out our health insurance from other contractual issues, we believe the Company should reflect the savings we are now enabling them to enjoy elsewhere in their contractual proposal.”

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