Health care costs rise for union: Union employees now required to pay 4.15 percent of gross pay for health care

Posted by Andrew Cantor

Beginning March 11, unionized college employees in the Service Employees International Union Local 200United will pay 4.15 percent of their gross earnings each pay period to cover the increased cost of their health care plan.

Local 200United represents about 150 college Dining Services, mechanic, maintenance, facilities, post office and stable hand employees.

The college and the union negotiated a new contract, signed on Sept. 26, 2010, and retroactively effective from June 1, 2010 to May 31, 2013, which did not include the 4.15 percent deduction to pay the health care 1199 SEIU Greater New York Benefit Fund.

At the end of 2010, the college and Local 200United did not finish negotiating a portion of the health care agreement.

An outside arbitrator then mediated the negotiations and decided unionized employees would pay 4.15 percent of their gross pay to cover increased health care plan costs, starting in February.

The college covered the increased health care costs for February, and employees will begin to pay them on March 11.

"We sympathize with our employees," said Barbara Beck, director of Human Resources at the college. "The increased costs are substantial."

In addition to the 4.15 percent gross pay deduction, employees of less than five years and more than five years will have to pay a health care premium of about $60 per week and $30 per week for a spouse, respectively.

The health care plan covers employees' children without any additional premium.

Ian Putnick, a union representative for the employees, notified employees of the pay deduction in a letter dated Jan. 17.

Employees claim they were unaware of the arbitrator's negotiations, and were surprised to find Putnick's letter.

Putnick did not respond to a phone call by press time on Feb. 24. "We didn't see this coming," said Thomas Baylor, a college postal employee. "It's awful. It's just awful."

"It's the fact that we didn't know about it that bothered me," baker Matt Littrell said. "We would have negotiated a higher pay raise in our contract if we knew this was coming."

"We should have known this was going on," Joanne Dugan, a short order cook, customer attendant and vice chairperson of the union, said. "It's not the college's fault … We should have been informed about the arbitration by our union."

In the agreement between the union and the college, employees can research an alternative health care plan and vote to switch plans.

Warren Desjardins, a cook and shop steward in the Dining Hall, is researching other health care plans. He posted a signup sheet in the Dining Hall asking employees to sign their names and pledge to research new health care plans.

Only two employees have signed their names.

"I'm looking for other options," Desjardins said. "But you have to realize how long this takes. We'd have to research a new plan, then go into negotiations with all the employees. We all have different shifts and schedules, so it's so hard to organize."

"It could have been a lot worse," Dugan said. "I've been an employee of the college since 1994. We haven't paid for health care [premiums] yet really until this year... We had to see this coming."

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