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Public Employee Press
Municipal labor unions win pact to improve health and prescription coverage and provide largest increase ever in funds for union plan
By GREGORY N. HEIRES
Negotiators on both sides hope the accord will pave the way for new wage pacts for DC 37 and other unions.
District Council 37 leaders played a prominent role as the Municipal Labor Committee and the city reached a two-year agreement that provides for a significant infusion of funds to protect union prescription drug plans, which face tremendous strain due to the soaring cost of medications.
The agreement will also expand health coverage and provide valuable new benefits for members, such as a college savings plan and a novel discount purchasing program to cut costs on big-ticket items like computers, major appliances and possibly cars.
opens door for wage talks
Tapping into substantial reserves that have mounted up in recent years in the health insurance stabilization reserve fund, the pact will give the city budgetary relief. This should make wage negotiations easier.
Underscoring the importance of winning long-term financing for prescription drugs, DC 37 Health and Security Plan Administrator Roslyn Yasser pointed out that this would be the largest single rate increase in the history of the DC 37 Health and Security Plan.
At a Jan. 4 meeting, DC 37 local presidents voted unanimously to approve the agreement. On Jan. 11, the MLC unanimously approved the deal, which covers the period from July 1, 2000 through June 30, 2002.
Mr. Saunders, DC 37 Secretary and Local 768 President Helen Greene, SSEU Local 371 President Charles Ensley and Local 372 President Virginia Montgomery-Costa represented the union on the MLC Steering Committee, which crafted the pact.
DC 37 Deputy Administrator Dennis Sullivan, Ms. Yasser, General Counsel Joel Giller, and Associate Director Evelyn Seinfeld and Assistant Director Michael Musuraca of the Research and Negotiations Dept. also played key roles in the talks.
The MLCs aims were to obtain financial relief for drug plans, protect and expand benefits, and get rid of a productivity roadblock in negotiations.
While the city may still raise the issue of productivity and merit pay in individual contracts, it has agreed to withdraw specific cost containment goals that range from $250 million in fiscal year 2001 to $300 million in fiscal year 2004.
On the last day of the pact, the union benefit plans will get a permanent $200 increase in the citys payment rate. Before the permanent increase, the city will make two large payments of $175 per member and retiree into the plans. One will come immediately after the signing of the agreement, and the second payment is due on July 1, 2001.
The funding increase should protect our prescription drug plan and other benefits over the course of the agreement, said Ms. Yasser.
The agreement will also help union prescription drug plans save money by having health insurance plans pick up the cost of some expensive medications.
The pact will allow workers to establish accounts with the New York State College Savings Program and have payments automatically deducted from their paychecks. The program permits participants to earn tax-deferred income on investments and to subtract contributions (up to $5,000 per individual) from their state-taxable income.
401(k), TransitChek and
Under the agreement, the TransitChek program will expand to include all city and Board of Education employees. The plan lets participants save about $250 a year in taxes through a payroll deduction program that provides vouchers for mass transportation.
The benefit modifications that provide monetary relief for the city include the establishment of a city-union cost containment committee to identify health care savings. During the two-year agreement, the city will not have to make its annual $35 million contribution to the stabilization fund.
Another provision calls for doubling the years of service required for newly hired workers to qualify for health care coverage during their retirement. Pension vesting will remain at five years.
This historic agreement is a major step toward new contracts for all city unions, said Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Now that the important task of resolving health benefits has been accomplished for all unions, the city is free to bargain individually with the various unions on their contracts.
Its time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a new contract, Mr. Saunders said. He expressed his optimism that the benefits agreement and the removal of the productivity roadblock should enable both sides to work out a new economic contract with substantial wage increases for union members.
Gains in benefit agreement
Prescription drug savings
Better health benefits