Chronicle management wants members to endure burdensome health care costs

Cartoon Hearst Cadillac Plan by George RussellBargaining Bulletin #16
San Francisco Chronicle unit

The Guild Bargaining team on Wednesday raised new cost issues concerning the Hearst Corp.’s proposal to move Chronicle Guild members and families into the management health care plan.

The Guild presented a detailed analysis of the company’s proposal that showed the Chronicle’s plan will not only cost employees more, but will also inflate the company’s own costs — just when profitability seems within reach.

The company plan sacrifices the affordable Kaiser HMO rates we get now in order to give the company virtually complete control over our health care system. On the other hand, the Hearst plan has some advantages, including an end to the chronic deficits we now confront.

The main focus of the Guild bargainers: for reasons the Chronicle has not been able to explain, the company’s rates for Kaiser are far higher than what the Guild has been able to get. And employees pay a much higher percentage of the tab.

Guild members are covered through a jointly administered, union-management Health & Welfare Trust, which was established in 1964. However, the trust is running a $100,000-a-month deficit, because the Chronicle has not agreed to raise its $148-per-week contribution per employee since 2005.

Coverage for families and participants in the more costly HealthNet HMO and PPO plans costs our health system more than what comes in from employees and the company. That’s the reason for our continuing drawdown of health-plan reserves.

Hearst wants to kill the jointly administered trust, in part to cure the deficit. However, the Guild showed Wednesday how the Chronicle’s own proposal could cost the company almost $1 million a year more than it pays now. That amount could be used to close the deficit and keep our own plan intact – with the cheaper rates we have been able to negotiate.

Company lawyer Aryn Sobo said management needed some time to study the Guild’s analysis. But she insisted that money alone is not the issue.

“While we understand the attention the Guild is giving to what costs less and what costs more, we don’t think that is the most helpful comparison to be using,” she said. “The Hearst plans have value in and of themselves that are not quantifiable.”

Meanwhile, the Guild is pursuing the possibility of obtaining health coverage through another union trust fund, which provides benefits to members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. If such an arrangement is possible, Guild members – and the Chronicle – would be able to gain the advantage of lower rates and lower administrative overhead.

We are scheduled to meet again with Hearst on Feb. 22, and hope to reach a tentative accord by the end of the month.

Representing the Guild: Michael Cabanatuan, Jon Ferguson, Matthai Kuruvila, Kat Anderson, and Carl Hall.

Representing Chronicle management: Suzy Cain, Cathy Rommelfanger, Peter Rahbar, Carolene Eaddy and Aryn Sobo. (Eaddy and Sobo participated by videoconference from New York).


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Michael Applegate

Pacific Media Workers Executive Officer