Education

Sacramento City Unified teachers balk at health insurance switch

Kindergarten teacher Peggy Watson, center, helps students Jordyn Mejias, left, and Andrew Henrikson in her class at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in Sacramento on Friday, January 31, 2014. Sacramento City Unified teachers have filed an unfair labor practice claim with the state, contending the school district’s 2015 switch in health insurers violates state employment law, breaches a contract and threatens to disrupt medical care for employees and retirees.
Kindergarten teacher Peggy Watson, center, helps students Jordyn Mejias, left, and Andrew Henrikson in her class at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in Sacramento on Friday, January 31, 2014. Sacramento City Unified teachers have filed an unfair labor practice claim with the state, contending the school district’s 2015 switch in health insurers violates state employment law, breaches a contract and threatens to disrupt medical care for employees and retirees. RBenton@sacbee.com

Sacramento City Unified teachers have filed an unfair labor practice claim with the state, contending the school district’s 2015 switch in health insurers violates state employment law, breaches a contract and threatens to disrupt medical care for employees and retirees.

The district negotiated the insurance switch with four labor groups, including bus drivers, office managers, principals and plant managers.

It did not negotiate the changes with the district’s largest union – the 2,200-member Sacramento City Teachers Association.

John Borsos, executive director of SCTA, said the district has no legal basis for the unilateral move. The teachers’ contract specifies that their health insurance choices are Kaiser and Health Net. The district is eliminating Health Net.

“I thought they would have a legal hat they could hang this on,” Borsos said. “They had nothing.”

Spokesman Gabe Ross doesn’t agree.

“The legal question is, are we violating the contract if we provide the same level of service?’” he said.

In its Oct. 24 filing to the Public Employment Relations Board, the teachers union complained, among other objections, that employees and retirees who live outside the area will lose easy access to specialized treatment.

SCTA is urging PERB to move quickly. With less than two months left in the year, SCTA President Nikki Milevsky is still hoping that a court injunction will allow members to avoid changing from their existing insurance plans this year while the conflicts are addressed.

“I think that district administrators and the school board should have thought very carefully about the consequences of their actions,” Milevsky said. “They are impacting a large number of people and there are consequences for that.”

Open enrollment closes Nov. 21. So far, about 1,000 employees and retirees have enrolled for next year. SCTA members – teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses and other certificated employees – still are able to choose Kaiser Permanente. But in place of Health Net, they have two other insurance options: Sutter Health Plus or Western Health Advantage HMO.

Ross said the vast majority of people will be able to choose a plan that allows them to keep the same doctor.

If PERB were to block the changeover, other dominoes would fall. The district reports it expects $6 million to $8 million in first-year savings because it negotiated on behalf of all 4,000 district employees, as well as some retirees. Without SCTA members and their retirees, the size of that pool would be cut by more than 2,000.

On a parallel track, SCTA has filed grievances on the insurance changes and soon expects to start binding arbitration with the district.

District spokesman Ross said the district has no plans to turn back.

“Our focus has been on making sure we’re providing employees with the health coverage they need and deserve and protecting the long-term fiscal health of the school district,” Ross said.

He said the unfunded liability for retiree health coverage is $600 million: “If we don’t begin to address that, it will continue to be an albatross around our neck. It will impact our ability to provide that benefit down the road.”

Ross said the large majority of employees will receive coverage at the same level or better in 2015.

“If they do see an increase in co-pays or anything, we’ve committed to holding them harmless for the first year,” Ross said. “So they won’t pay anything additional out of pocket.”

SCTA tried to oust three board trustees in the November election, in part for failing to block the unilateral insurance change. That effort unseated one incumbent, Jeff Cuneo, who had SCTA’s endorsement four years ago. Teacher Ellen Cochrane defeated Cuneo with 56 percent of the vote.

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.

  Comments