Flier demands renegotiation of U Plan

by Bryce Haugen

A flier that landed in the mailboxes of some University faculty last week accuses the University of cheating its employees out of $6 million in health care.

The three-page document demands a reopening of negotiations with the University, in hopes of reducing health-care costs for the 16,000 employees who subscribe to U Plan, the University’s health-care plan.

Last week’s effort was not officially coordinated, said Gladys McKenzie, senior business representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6, which represents most of the unionized University clerical workers, technicians and healthcare employees. However, she said she is excited to see the flier distribution.

“We’d expect it to spread somewhat on its own,” she said. “Our efforts are benefiting all employees.”

AFSCME created the flier in early August after it learned, during a round of information-sharing negotiations, that cost projections for the U Plan were off. During last year’s contract negotiations, the University predicted the plan’s cost would increase 13.5 percent in 2005. Instead, rates will increase by 8.5 percent, according to updated figures.

That gap amounts to either a $6 million savings or a $6 million fleecing, depending on who’s asked. For the union and the University administration, the debate isn’t about the numbers, which private consultants calculated; it’s about their differing interpretations.

“It’s as if you had a trust fund and you had set aside a certain amount of dollars for college Ö and let’s say you find out that what you’ve budgeted for tuition was over what you really needed,” said McKenzie, who was the lead negotiator for AFSCME Locals 3800 and 3801 during their 15-day strike last fall.

“They’re taking the balance out of the trust fund and using it for whatever they want.”

McKenzie said she would not have encouraged the union to accept last year’s contract if she had known the University had additional money for health care.

The flier asks all University employees, faculty or staff, to “call, write and e-mail (University) President (Bob) Bruininks and tell him we want our money back.”

Dann Chapman, director of Employee Benefits, said claims that the University is profiting off of the U Plan are “absolutely not true.”

He said all parties benefit from the new projections because the U Plan is jointly funded.

“They’re asking that the University not take any of the 5 percent savings,” Chapman said.

The University, which come January will pay for 85 percent of the costs for a family plan, will save $5.1 million, while U Plan subscribers, who will pay 15 percent, will save $900,000.

When U Plan debuted in 2002, the University paid all costs for the program. That changed in 2004, when subscribers were asked to contribute 10 percent. In 2005, the number will increase to 15 percent.

That means employees will make $42 less per month than they do now, said Candace Lund, Walter Library assistant and president of AFSCME Local 3937, which represents 1,100 University technical workers.

She said the increased healthcare costs will be proportionally harder for AFSCME members than for other University employees because they are among the lowest-paid workers on campus.

“For senior decision-makers, it might be a bottle of wine,” she said. “But for our members, it’s groceries; it’s doctor’s visits.”

AFSCME leaders are asking for the reopening of negotiations, because they want the University to use the $6 million savings to lower health-care costs.

Chapman said he sees “no reasonable rationale for reopening negotiations.”

“We’re not going to charge inflated rates in 2005,” he said.

Gavin Watt, chairman of the University Senate Benefits Advisory Committee and a U Plan subscriber, said he can’t say whether the University is, as the flier said, “scrooging” its employees until he’s studied the issue further. But, he said, he thinks the University administration is acting in good faith.

“Working with the administration on the committee, it’s been my impression they make every effort they can to truly price health care,” he said.