After a seven-month struggle against the rising cost of health care premiums, over 200 University employees received news over the summer that they will be granted annual subsidies to help alleviate the financial burden. The subsidy will go into effect Jan. 1 and will be awarded to all employees earning $50,000 or less annually.
“While not everyone at the university would benefit directly from the premium subsidy, we are a community, and this is news we can all appreciate,” President Michael Roth wrote in a June 14 email to University staff.
The subsidy will amount to $600 for employees with individual coverage, $1,300 for employees and one other person, and $1,600 for families. According to Chief Steward of Local 151 and Physical Plant employee Pete McGurgan, it will be a major asset to those at the lower end of the salary scale, who were hit hardest by the premium increase.
“It’s not a complete answer by any means but it definitely helps those out who are in a tight spot,” McGurgan said. “I know the people who get it are going to appreciate it.”
Debate about health care costs heated up after an Oct. 27 announcement that insurance premiums for faculty and staff would increase by 14.5 percent for the 2011-2012 academic year. It was an especially tough blow for members of the Secretarial/Clerical Union, whose contribution to the health care premium was simultaneously scheduled to increase from 15 percent to 33.3 percent because of changes written into their last contract. This meant that the monthly cost of the health maintenance organization (HMO) package for some employees grew from $193.38 to $501.60.
On Nov. 17, the United Student Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) protested the increasing costs, reading aloud statements from clerical workers downstairs in Usdan. These included statements by employees who feared they would have to switch to the state-run Huskie plan and comments about low morale among workers.
Over the spring semester, the administration led a series of discussions with faculty and staff about potential changes to the structure of premium payments. According to former Chairman of the Compensation and Benefits Committee Michael McAlear, no changes were adopted because faculty viewpoints were split on the matter.
“There was a wide range of opinions across the faculty,” McAlear said. “In the end, when you tabulated all of the tallies, there didn’t seem to be a mandate to change it one way or the other.”
Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, comprised of the University’s secretary and clerical workers, ratified their latest contract on Tuesday. The contract stipulated that the $50,000 threshold would be calculated based on a 35-hour workweek and will increase to $51,000 in 2013 and $52,000 in 2014.
The contract also provided for a two percent wage increase every year over the next three years, a pledge to match up to two percent of salary contributed to the Supplemental Retirement Annuity (SRA), a new job reclassification system, and the ability to donate sick days to other employees who may need them.
Chief Steward of Local 151 and Administrative Assistant Barbara Schukoske said she believes that the negotiations worked out to both the union and University’s advantage.
“The negotiations were amicable,” she said. “There was no fighting. There was nobody walking out. It was very respectful. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”
She added that she doesn’t think the subsidy agreement would have been possible without the support of USLAC members and other students.
“We have to thank the students; if it wasn’t for the students I’m sure this contract wouldn’t be what it is either,” Schukoske said. “It’s so true—the students make the difference here.”