optimism on staff contract

7/17/2011: Maybe the UO staff won’t need to strike at the start of fall quarter. From Dennis Thompson in the Statesman Journal:

Kitzhaber has demanded that state employees pay 5 percent of their health care premiums as part of the new contract for the 2011-13 biennium. The unions appear to be bending to that demand — but on their own terms. AFSCME Council 75 is pursuing wage increases for its workers, and has said it will agree to the premium share — and even additional furlough days — to “buy” those pay hikes.

No word yet on whether or not the OUS board will ask Chancellor Pernsteiner to pay 5% of his maid service premium:

Mr. X,

I received “out of office” replies to both of my email requests for these records. Our budget director is out until Monday, July 18 and OUS general counsel is on vacation until Wednesday, July 20. I will follow up with both of them as soon as possible and let you know what I am able to provide in response to these requests.

Sincerely, OUS Board Secretary, Mr. Y.

staff contract negotiations stalled over health plan changes

7/4/2011: Dennis Thompson of the Statesman Journal has an analysis. (He also runs the excellent State Workers Blog.) The sticking point is Kitzhaber wants a 5% contribution towards premiums (apparently w/ no means test!) plus this:

Under the Health Engagement Model, all workers would undergo a health assessment and then be required to take steps to reduce whatever health risks are detected.

Such a plan won’t work unless there are consequences for not following through, however. Why cut down on the potato chips and beer if you won’t pay any penalty?

A PEBB subcommittee looking at the model finally came to the conclusion that the easiest way to create some sort of penalty would be to assess surcharges against people who either don’t participate in the program or fail to act.

The subcommittee presented their findings to the full PEBB board last month, proposing a surcharge of $30 for single employees and $45 for employees with families.

The union argues they’ve already paid the insurance pickup via years of lower wages and now mandatory furloughs. The 5% pickup and the HEM fee (if you don’t modify your behavior) will be about $1000 a year. Add in the furloughs, and the lowest paid workers – most likely to smoke – are going to lose a large % of income under the state’s proposal.

How are they going to handle medical marijuana users? While PEBB will not pay the $200 marijuana card fee, they will pay for the doctor’s visit to get qualified. And also presumably waive the HEM fee, since the grass is medically approved. But cigarette smokers with a family will have to pay an annual $540 HEM fee.

So the end result of Dr. Kitzhaber’s bargaining position with SEIU will be a large decrease in the price of pot smoking relative to cigarette smoking for state employees. I’m no economist, but the substitution effect may get interesting.

University staff march, may strike

6/30/2011: Today the SEIU staff union hold a lunchtime rally about their bargaining situation.

UO is flush with money – read the Bunsis report for details. The state is broke. Unfortunately, the UO staff union bargains with the state, not with UO. So the contract they get is very likely to reduce their take home pay dramatically, via cuts in benefits, co-pays for insurance, furloughs, and so on.

For a staff worker making $35,000 a year, this is disastrous. The fact that their OA supervisors and the faculty will get raises makes the situation patently unfair.

Pres Lariviere has shown he’s willing to go out on a limb for the staff by offsetting furlough days with overtime. But so long as the union negotiates with the state, not UO, there’s not much he can do to deal with the fundamental problem.

My guess is that there’s a 50/50 chance of a strike by the staff, presumably right around the start of classes. One more reason UO needs to get out from under the state and Dr. Pernsteiner.