Sacramento City Unified district, teachers remain at odds over health benefits

A three-day hearing is scheduled to start April 6 to determine if the Sacramento City Unified School District violated state law by unilaterally changing teachers’ health benefit options.

The 2,200-member Sacramento City Teachers Association alleges that the school district violated labor rules by dropping Health Net as an insurance provider without negotiating the change.

John Borsos, the union’s executive director, said his group and the district are in a separate process of selecting an arbitrator to decide whether the district violated its labor contract with teachers. An arbitrator’s decision would be binding on both parties.

District spokesman Gabe Ross said the issues are not clear-cut. Last December, the Public Employment Relations Board did not act before the Jan. 1 effective date of the insurance change, he said.

“The PERB board did not find sufficient grounds to grant (immediate) relief” in advance of a hearing, Ross said. “There was no evidence of harm is the point.

“Our focus remains on providing our employees with health coverage that they have earned and deserve and on being good stewards of the long-term fiscal health of our district.”

Ross said the district “remains willing to work with SCTA to find alternative solutions to this situation.”

The district last year unilaterally eliminated the insurer as an option, effective this month, estimating that districtwide consistency in providers to all 4,000 district employees would save $6 million to $8 million in the first year.

The district also vowed, for a limited time, to reimburse any SCTA members who face unexpected higher costs due to the switch.

During last November’s open enrollment period, teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses and other SCTA members were asked to choose Kaiser, an existing health insurer, or shift to Sutter Health Plus or Western Health Advantage HMO.

The district negotiated those changes with four of its labor groups, including bus drivers, office managers, principals and plant managers. But the district did not negotiate the changes with the teachers union.

Borsos questioned whether the district would see savings.

“The health plan changes are going to cost the district more money because of the exposure” tied to reimbursements for unexpected higher costs, Borsos said. “They have no estimate of what that’s going to be. They have no way of knowing whether that’s going to cost them money or save them money.”

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