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.”