Unions ask questions on health care proposals

Union leaders met again with the company Monday about next year’s health care coverage and asked a number of questions after getting data we sought.

The company’s proposal would raise year over year costs for Guild members by more than 30 percent. The company’s costs would rise less than 13 percent.

Depending on the plan selected, it could raise weekly costs for members by between $12.69 and $13.94. Some $10 of that would be the result of paying part of the reimbursement for the company’s share of the deductible, which we’ve never been asked to cover before.

At issue is an attempt by the company to say the unions have not been paying all of the “total costs” for the plan. The Guild is seeking legal advice from its International on the company’s position.

A number of issues arose in today’s meeting.

Data given to the Guild showed members are to be reimbursed about $230,000 this year by the company for its portion of the deductible. Last year, when 14 more people were in the plan, that number was $261,680.16.

The company is seeking to make the union pay 23 percent of $600,000, which it says is the total cost of reimbursing employees. The Guild learned Monday that number includes exempt employees, members of other unions, and people paying COBRA. The Guild said our members and the members of other unions should not be made to reimburse people who are not in the bargaining unit.

The company replied that since we are all in one plan, that affects how the rates are set and the costs should be divided equally.

The company is also contending the unions should share in the cost of the insurance broker who negotiates and administers the program. The Guild said since the unions did not decide to hire the broker, did not pick the broker and the broker does not work for the unions, we should not pay any portion of the firm’s pay.

The company (and the broker) insisted that legally the broker’s fee could be counted as part of the “total cost.”

The union also pointed out that if our members are going to have to pay a percentage of the company’s share of the deductible, then the company should pay its percentage of the up to $750 our members pay at the start of every year. Again, the company balked and argued that the $750 was not part of the health insurance plan but the company’s share of the reimbursement is.

All of these arguments raised legal questions. After the meeting, the Guild turned to its International to ask for advice.

The Guild, mailers and pressmen agreed to meet with the company again at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The unions also said that they intended to put a proposal forth by Friday.

We’ve asked our International for answers as quickly as possible to help guide us in our decision-making. We will keep members updated and will schedule a membership meeting once we have some more clarity on the legal issues.

Guild President Tim O’Brien told the company it is difficult to ask our members to pay a third more for health care when members have not had a raise in more than five years. Publisher George Hearst insisted those were separate issues.

“We will continue to do the research needed to get the fairest deal we can for our members,” O’Brien said. “We believe the proposal as it is is unacceptable, but we are glad to work with the other unions to try to find a solution.”

One Comment

  • Tom Keyser

    When did the company become the Evil Empire, and when did George Hearst become Darth Vader?

    When I started at the Times Union in the mid 1990s, it was a warm and pleasant place to work. Coming from the Baltimore Sun, which the Tribune Co. had turned into an angry and bitter place, I was surprised at the congenial relationship between the Guild and the company.

    Times have changed, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that Hearst and company lawyers — time after time after time — have to treat the employees with such total disdain.

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