On Oct. 27, the administration announced that effective Jan. 1, medical insurance premiums for faculty and staff are set to increase by 26.7 percent, and that after the University absorbs 12.2 percent of the increase, staff and faculty premiums will rise by 14.5 percent. The announcement upset many secretarial, clerical, and Physical Plant workers, who are concerned that the rising health care costs will offset wage increases that are written into their current contracts, and in some cases, may lead to net decreases in wages after the increased premiums are taken into account.

“The primary reason [for the increase] is that, in this past year, Wesleyan experienced increases in both claim severity and frequency,” read an Administrative Statement provided to The Argus by Director of University Communications William Holder. “Other factors include the overall rising cost of healthcare in the United States.”

Graduate Student Services Administrative Assistant Barbara Schukoske said that the increase will be especially hard on the secretarial and clerical workers because, as negotiated in their last contract and consistent with other University employees, beginning Jan. 1 the members will be required to pay 33.3 percent of their health care premium, rather than 15 percent.

According to Schukoske, who is Chief Steward of Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, the percentage of an entry-level secretarial/clerical workers’ salary that went toward health insurance in 2010 was 2.2 percent for an individual HMO, 4.7 percent for a two-person HMO, and 5.8 percent for a family HMO. In 2011, the percentage will rise to 5.6 percent for individual coverage, 12.2 percent for two-person coverage, and 15 percent for family coverage.

“I’ve had [Local 151] members contact me who have also looked at their option of going onto the state-run Huskie Plan because they can’t afford Wesleyan’s plan and their salaries qualify them,” Schukoske said.

She says that some employees are considering going off of insurance entirely.

“A single dad came to me and said, ‘Okay, they’re going to take away my gas money to get to work,’” Schukoske said. “He wanted to know if he could put just his daughter on health insurance and not himself.”

Although employees are not obligated to purchase health insurance through the University, they are not permitted to insure family members through the University plan without insuring themselves.

According to an article published Wednesday in The New York Times, institutions are increasingly adopting tiered systems to adjust for rising health care costs, so that employees with higher salaries shoulder more of the increase in cost than those at the bottom of the salary bracket. Under Vanderbilt University’s benefit program, health care premiums will remain the same for employees who earn under $50,000, while they will increase for all other employees.

Art and Art History Department Administrative Assistant and Assistant Steward of Local 153 Rhonda York said that she and other Union Representatives are hoping to negotiate for further wage increases in their next contract to compensate for the rising health care costs. Their current contract expires on June 30, 2010.

“I fear that [the negotiations are] going to go on for too long, just like how Physical Plant’s went on and on,” York said, referring to the nearly four-month-long negotiations between Physical Plant and the University, which concluded last month with the assistance of a federal mediator.

It was not until the negotiations finally came to a close that Physical Plant workers were told about the premium increase.

“If I were making $150,000 to $200,000 a year, it wouldn’t be an issue,” said Chief Steward of Local 151 Pete McGurgan. “I wouldn’t be put in a corner where I’m trying to find every dollar I can just to buy fuel to heat the house.”

  • shame on you, Wesleyan

    The University should be ashamed of themselves. Does the general public know that Wesleyan University employees are being forced to look into STATE ASSISTED Health insurance? A person with a family will be paying over $500/month now. These are employees that are restricted to 35 hours of pay a week, most are making under $600/week. The lower health insurance was the only thing that most were feeling was helping them out financially. Now after basically getting bullied by Wesleyan to accept the higher premiums, they are raising it even more on their least paid employees, most of who have already dealt with hour decreases and an obscene increase in work with all of those who took early separation deals.
    I find it very hard to believe that last year’s claims were any different than any other year.

    There is only one way to make this better, let’s see how much Wesleyan really values their employees, or at least those on the bottom of the totem pole….

  • Linda DeRusha

    Another aspect to this issue: The voluntary separation package the university recently enacted led to the departure of dozens of staff, both union and non-union. Remaining staff are expected to absorb the work of those who left, leading to huge increases in stress levels, and, consequently, to illness and more medical claims, ostensibly the cause of the large premium increase. So we are asked to pay twice: by increases (some humanly impossible) in the amount of work assigned us, then for the short-sightedness of the administration in thinking so many positions could be eliminated without a negative impact on the health of remaining staff.

    In addition, those positions that are, finally, being reinstated are now at a lower pay grade than previously, although their complexity and level of responsibility are the same. Staff in those positions will now see an even larger percentage of their (now lower) salary going for health care premiums, while the university enjoys savings on salary costs. Ironic, don’t you think?

  • Insurance Blues

    So it’s “okay” for Wesleyan to exploit the lower-waged Union workers in an effort to increase their endowment to be “marketable” to potential students and to raise their ranking in US News reports on colleges?

    It’s “okay” for Wesleyan to tell their employees that you can join the state assisted Husky plan? OR even better, just drop out and be uninsured completely.

    For those Administrators that make larger salaries, this kind of increase is hardly a dent in their income, but for those that have budgeted income for their families, it’s a shameful thing for Wesleyan to think it’s okay to push these employee to the brink of bankruptcy or force them to look for another job to be able to afford health insurance. Administration already shows so much animosity for this group, it’s clear it is a way to try to rid themselves of those long-term employees and hire some younger employees that they will treat just as shamefully in the hopes that they leave to find better job and don’t have to support their benefits or pensions for any length of time – Gone are the days where these employees aim to stay with the University because it was a nice place to work. Shame on you Wesleyan, this was a “community”, where you felt valued and respected. How can a community become “engaged” when Administration is so desperately trying to “disengage” the Unions on campus?

  • Anonymous

    Our premium for health and dental under the new Wesleyan plans will increase from $50/week to $118/week. This is a 236% increase. Reconsideration is due for employees who are being forced to increase their share from 15% to 33% of the premium and also absorb the premium increase. Highly compensated employees will only have to deal with the premium increase.

  • Anonymous

    They are not telling the whole story.
    Our share of the premium used to be 15% with the company paying 85%.
    Now our share of the premium is 33% with the company paying 67%.
    To make it simple, if the total premium was $100.00, our share was $15.00 with the company paying $85.00.
    Even if there was no premium increase our share would go to $33.00 and company $67.00 Jan 1st.
    But they are saying in addition to the employee share percentage increasing, the premium is also increasing 14% that will make the example premium now $114.00.
    Our share will now be a third of that or $38.00 and the compay paying $76.00.
    Our cost will rise 250% from $15.00 to $38.00 per the example. How can they say it is a 33% increase? I question the legality of this increase as well as it being discriminatory against a chosen small group.