To The Daily Sun,
In response to the collective bargaining agreement for the Belknap County Nursing Home employees:
Recently the union representing a majority of employees in the Belknap County Nursing Home voted down a proposed collective bargaining agreement. The vote was 33 opposed and 14 in favor. Twenty-three employees covered by the agreement could not vote because they do not pay union dues.
From these results, we know that 20 percent favored the agreement, 47 percent opposed it and the views of the remaining 33 percent are uncertain. Following the vote, union leadership has openly suggested that those of us who negotiated the agreement for the county were close-minded and unfair. One good way to decide if an agreement should be acceptable to the employees is to place yourself in the position of an employee and ask yourself how you would have voted. Did the rejection of the agreement make sense?
Let's ask ourselves, how would we have voted if we had been employees? Generally, an employee's base hourly rate is only the first step in calculating compensation for a nursing home employee. Close to 70 percent earn at least $1,000 more than their base hourly rate would produce, and 40 percent earn at least $4,000 above the annual base amount; some as high as $10,000 more per year in shift differentials and/or overtime.
This allows employees at Belknap County significant opportunity to increase their wages and thus their pension. After carefully comparing the county's wage scales with others, we are very competitive — across the board. Additionally, our employees receive a significant health insurance and retirement package.
The major point of opposition to the rejected contract was that it substituted a less expensive health insurance coverage with deductibles for the current more expensive "Cadillac" plan (a plan that was on the verge of triggering a special tax under Obamacare — which has now been postponed until 2020).
Until a new agreement is reached, the county must continue to pay approximately 95 percent of the premium cost, while employees pay the other 5 percent. The latest U.S. Department of Labor numbers on premium cost-sharing between employers and employees in New England shows employers paying 79 percent and employees paying 21 percent.
Clearly, if it had not been for the need to move to a less costly coverage, the focus of the county bargaining would have been to move to a more equitable sharing of premiums consistent with the clear current national trend. To accomplish the primary focus of the county, the proposed contract provided that in return for the move to the less costly coverage, the county would pay the full premium amount for the less expensive coverage for the life of the contract.
Consider the potential impact to an average employee in the Nursing Home bargaining unit:
Average Bargaining Unit Employee Earnings: $34,913 for 2016, $36,623.86 for 2017.
COLA Year 1 = 1.4 percent, Year 2 = 2 percent: $366.59 for 2016, $552.13 for 2017.
Step Increase = 3 percent: $529.19 for 2016, $560.41 for 2017.
One time Health Incentive: $1,000 in 2016.
Total Earnings: $36,808.78 in 2016, $37,921.33 in 2017.
Less: Current Family Plan Health Cost: $1,315.08 in 2016, $1,315.08 in 2017.
Possible Deductible Incurred: $3,000 in 2016, $3,000 in 2017.
Plus: Wellness Benefit: $1,500 in 2016, $1,500 in 2017.
Annual Financial Impact to Employee: $36,623.86 in 2016, $37,736.41 in 2017.
You can see that although it's possible that an employee will have to pay a maximum deductible each year, the wage increases and wellness benefits combined with their savings from paying premium contributions are far more beneficial to them. The increases in wages also serve to increase their retirement benefits. Calculated for an employee with individual health coverage, the financial gain is even more.
Under the scenario described above, the proposed agreement looks not only reasonable but quite good for the employee. It is one of those relatively rare win-win situations. The employee ends up better off.
The certain pluses outweigh the dollar risks; the increase in wages, the dollar savings in health insurance premiums, the potential wellness incentives and the $1,000 bonus outbalance the limited risk presented by the deductible. This is true across the board, regardless of the employee's health insurance needs (family, couple or single).
At the same time, the taxpayers of the county save money. Given the contract rejection, status quo continues and everyone loses.
Belknap County Negotiating Team
- Category: Letters
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