Guild Fights to Maintain Health Coverage

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Still Waiting on Management’s First Wage Proposal

In the latest bargaining session with the Washington Post, Guild negotiators were joined by staff writer Amy Goldstein, a union member who is one of the paper’s experts on the recent federal health care law. She gave a deeply researched presentation about the company’s proposal to stop offering health insurance to part-time employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week.

The company has argued, remarkably, that this would be a benefit for part-timers. The company, citing a single outside study by Price Waterhouse Cooper, claimed part-timers could find better deals on the insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act because they might receive government subsidies they could not get if the Post offers them insurance.

Amy dissected this argument point by point, making clear that the Post’s proposal would take us down a dangerous road. Here’s why:

1. The Price Waterhouse Cooper study is shallow, because it compares insurance premiums but doesn’t look at the total costs (“actuarial equivalent”) to the consumer – including deductibles, co-payments, access to drugs, choice of doctors, etc.

2. The ACA was not created to enable large employers like The Post to drop coverage for some employees and let them fend for themselves on insurance exchanges. The ACA was designed to help small businesses and individuals without insurance who could not afford coverage in the private market. Dumping employees wholesale on the exchanges would be bad for the nation’s health- care system.

3. The Post says that only a handful of part-timers take advantage of its insurance coverage. But that also means they cannot be a huge cost to the company. Amy further pointed out that this number could change in the future, especially given the dynamic nature of the industry. It’s not clear whether the ACA’s subsidies will survive the latest Supreme Court challenge. And there is political pressure to change the law itself by altering the definition of full-time work, which under ACA is currently 30 hours per week but could be pushed to 35 or even 40. If that happened, The Post might be tempted in future contracts to raise its own definition to the higher number. As Amy put it, “Once you set a precedent that some employees are not entitled to health insurance, it becomes easier to redraw the line as to how many would be left out.”

4. The Post’s proposal is ill-timed for another reason: Health care inflation has slowed dramatically in recent years. “It’s not as if the company is incurring a big hit in health care expenses by continuing to do the civilized thing that is best for employees and best for the health care system by offering offer insurance to all its workers,” she said.

The Guild also presented the views of a part-timer who examined what it would cost to replace her current policy with one from a local exchange. If she had to obtain a policy under Obamacare, she would incur additional annual costs of more than $7,200. She also noted that she and several other part-timers are young women who cut back salaried work to be with young children. “Abolishing our health insurance would be an incredibly un-family-friendly policy and would unfairly target women,” she writes.

Just to be clear: The Company talks of shifting part-time workers to the exchanges with little regard for what would happen to workers who are dumped from The Post’s insurance plan. And although only a fraction of the Post’s 70 part-time employees who are eligible for this coverage actually enroll, it is a potential benefit that they may want or need to take advantage of it should their personal circumstances change.

But here’s what’s even more disturbing about the Post’s health care proposals. The Post also sought the explicit right to terminate – that is the exact word used three times in the proposal – everyone’s health insurance. You read that right. Although the contract already allows the company to alter health care provisions, management wanted the ability to kill the entire health package altogether.

We are pleased to report that our objections persuaded the management team to withdraw their proposal on the right to terminate everyone’s health care insurance. We hope they will see the light on part-timers now too.

We cannot thank Amy enough for stepping up, along with other staffers who helped us analyze and respond to the company’s proposals. We look forward to making progress on a long list of other outstanding issues, including proposed changes to the pension plan, severance pay, job protection, union security, and wages. We continue to await the Company’s wage proposal.

–The Bargaining Committee (Joel Achenbach, Patricia “Pat” Jacob, Freddy Kunkle, Stephen “Rocky” Richardson and Timothy Smith)

Units in this article: The Washington Post