Bargaining Healthcare Benefits

February 20, 2012: Employers are trying to push rising healthcare costs onto workers and their families.

Teamsters speak out on company tactics to look out for in contract negotiations—and what you can do to protect your benefits.

Is your employer asking you to pay for healthcare?

You’re not alone. With the economy in recession and healthcare costs on the rise, employers are increasingly trying to shift the cost of healthcare onto workers.

TDU talked to experienced Teamster bargainers about common employer tactics to watch out for—and what you can do to defend your benefits.

A Foot in the Door

Management may just be trying to get their foot in the door by getting members to agree to pay for a small part of their monthly premium—maybe starting in the last year of the contract.

They may even sweeten the pot by reimbursing members for the premium the first year.

Proceed with caution. Management’s goal is to get a foot in the door. You can bet they’ll demand that you pay even more in the next contract—and every contract after that.

“We refused outright when management asked us to pay five percent of the medical plan,” said Local 805 steward Jose Arrocho.

“If we let that happen it would open the door to bigger and bigger increases. Next time we’d be discussing how much more employees would contribute. We put our foot down.”

Stick With a Union Plan

Many Teamster members are already in a union health and welfare fund. But your company may try to tempt you into a company plan they promise is more affordable.

Look out for the bait-and-switch, says Local 805 President Sandy Pope.

“Private insurance companies will offer you a cheaper plan the first year, then whack you with higher costs in the second or third year,” Pope warns.

“Stick with a union plan,” Pope says. “For the same benefit coverage, union plans are about 20 percent cheaper than company plans, because they pay cash, control costs better, and are nonprofit.”

High Deductible Plans

Many companies are pushing “cheap” company plans with high deductibles. Read the fine print.

Management tried to switch Teamsters at Sodexo in New York to a cheap company plan.

The local did its homework and warned members they would pay hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket for family coverage, and a deductible of more than a thousand dollars.

Members said No Way and kept their Teamster benefits.

Caps

Employers are demanding caps on how much they will pay toward healthcare premiums in a company plan.

Caps are dangerous, because members get stuck with the bill when premiums skyrocket.

Defending Your Benefits

“Bargaining over healthcare can be hard, but it’s also one of the best issues to unite members,” says Stefan Ostrach, a long-time negotiator with Oregon Local 206.

That’s what happened last year at United Airlines. Hoffa and the airline wanted mechanics to ratify a contract that would have terminated their medical plan at the end of 2012, to be replaced with a new plan, perhaps with large co-premiums to pay.

The mechanics voted the proposal down and sent their negotiators back to the table—and won an agreement that protects their healthcare for the life of the agreement.


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