Health care questions dominate Guild contract talks at SF Chronicle
August 2, 2012
Members of the San Francisco Chronicle Unit met Wednesday to hear the latest word — none too encouraging — from the bargaining front.
No decisions were made or votes taken at the meeting. Members raised many questions, and discussed a written set of answers distributed by union officers. The written Q&A follows. Health care is the central focus, along with other economic issues.
The next negotiations are scheduled August 23 and 24. A meeting of health trustees is set for August 7. More detailed bulletins will be issued as news warrants.
August 1, 2012
Chronicle Guild Unit Bargaining Committee
Questions and Answers About Our Health Care and Contract Negotiations
Why are we discussing this now?
Our contract expired in June. We agreed with Hearst negotiators to extend all terms – including the contract’s health care provisions – while negotiations for a new contract are under way. However, we see little chance of a quick settlement, and the Chronicle Guild health system is experiencing a serious financial deficit that must be addressed very soon to avoid a real crisis.
What’s the cause of the health care problem?
Our health insurance is provided through a Guild-management trust fund. Our contract requires the Hearst Corp. to pay a fixed amount ($148 per fulltime employee per week) into the fund, which then secures coverage through our insurance companies (Health Net and Kaiser). Costs for health benefits have been increasing rapidly for many years, as everybody knows, but the company’s regular contribution hasn’t increased since 2005. The company agreed to make a one-time extra contribution that year, and the Guild has agreed to divert pay increases — enough to allow the health fund to build up a reserve. But now that reserve has dwindled to the point that we need more money coming in to avoid slashing benefits or imposing sudden and unreasonable cost increases on employees.
Employees also contribute through payroll deductions. Haven’t we been contributing more all along? And haven’t we had to accept higher co-pays and reduced benefits?
Yes. Our costs for health care have risen every year one way or another. Big changes occurred in November 2008, for example, when many out-of-pocket costs and spending limits jumped. It’s now $30 every time we see a doctor at Kaiser. We have attached a sheet showing how payroll deductions for Guild employees have changed the past three years.
What have we done to reach an agreement?
The Guild began informal discussions with the management in April about the need to address the health care situation. We expressed willingness to examine all options as long as our members’ need for quality, affordable coverage is respected. In May, we presented a formal proposal that included a large increase in employee co-pays and/or benefit cuts – enough to total $500,000 per year, or one-third of the annual deficit our health plan is running. We also proposed modest pay increases and a 401(k) match, among other things, as part of a comprehensive but pared-down contract proposal.
More recently, when the health plan trustees made it clear certain deadlines must be met into order to meet open enrollment by October, the Guild proposed a one-year contract extension provided Hearst pay in just enough to keep the health coverage at current levels. Management balked at the estimated cost, however, and rejected the extension idea.
What has the company proposed?
The management has yet to make a proposal or respond formally to ours. We proposed several meeting dates in July, hoping to discuss the company’s response, but Hearst negotiators declined to meet, saying they needed more time to formulate a proposal. We have been told that a new company plan is in the works, which may involve a substitute health care system. But we have seen no details – and time is running short.
Is there any risk of going without health care if this drags on?
Eventually, if the health plan runs out of reserves, the trustees will have to take some action to avoid default. We anticipate status quo will be maintained, however, for the next few weeks, perhaps the next three months. Management has stated repeatedly that it recognizes its responsibilities to provide health care to employees and our families. The Guild will fight against any erosion of our coverage, and while we recognize everybody must contribute, we demand that our entire compensation be taken into account – including our pay, retirement, time off and other benefits – when any health care fix is being discussed.
If the management offers a new health plan that we choose to reject, what are the Guild’s options in the negotiations?
We have to agree before any change can happen in terms of the contract’s $148 a week required management contribution to the present system. That’s significant – management can’t unilaterally make any big move unless we agree. Moreover, public policy in San Francisco now requires companies to provide some form of health care benefits to workers residing in San Francisco, or pay the city to provide the benefits. These factors, combined with our mutual interest in a stable workplace and good quality, affordable benefits – and our long history of working with management for the good of the Chronicle – argue in favor of reaching a fair settlement very soon.
And what if the company demands unreasonable sacrifices?
It will be up to us to fight for a fair compromise. We are confident our members will find powerful allies in the community to back us up, respect the quality of work we do and the sacrifices we have made already, and will join with us should we be forced to defend something so basic as health care for our families.
What can I do right now?
Let your shop steward know that you want to help. There are many ways our members can back the Guild effort in these negotiations. Send an email to email@example.com, or let us know at the August 1 General Membership meeting.
Your Guild Bargaining Committee
Chronicle Guild members have been paying more for health care
Payroll deduction effective November 2009:
Kaiser member only – $20.24 every 2 weeks
Kaiser member + 1 – $60.74
Kaiser member + 2 or more – $85.96
Health Net HMO member only – $40.74
Health Net HMO member + 1 – $87.62
Health Net HMO member + 2 or more – $120.20
Health Net PPO member only – $70.32
Health Net PPO member + 1 – $140.64
Health Net PPO member + 2 or more – $203.94
Payroll deduction effective November 2010:
Kaiser member only – $22.76 every 2 weeks
Kaiser member +1 – $68.26
Kaiser member +2 or more – $96.58
Health Net HMO member only – $43.52
Health Net HMO member +1 – $93.56
Health Net HMO member +2 or more – $128.38
Health Net PPO member only -$81.30
Health Net PPO member + 1- $162.60
Health Net PPO member + 2 or more – $235.76
Payroll deduction effective November 2011 (Current):
Kaiser member only – $30.50 every 2 weeks
Kaiser member + 1- $86.42
Kaiser member + 2 or more – $122.28
Health Net HMO member only – $53.96
Health Net HMO member + 1 – $116
Health Net HMO member + 2 or more – $159.16
Health Net PPO member only -$97.50
Health Net PPO member +1 – $194.98
Health Net PPO member + 2 or more – $282.72
Company contributions: $148.28 per employee per week, per FT employee, unchanged since Jan. 2005.