OLYMPIA (Dec. 26, 2011) — In the latest of the national efforts to demonize state and educational employees, following on the heels of similar anti-collective bargaining drives in Ohio, Wisconsin and Tennessee, the “blue” State of Washington’s Health Care Authority has released a legislative proposal to remove health benefits from the scope of collective bargaining for local school employees.
The development of this proposal cost $1.2 million at a time when thousands of the poor in Washington state are being cut off from medical coverage so that revenue reform can be avoided in the state with the most regressive tax structure in the nation. It was included in last year’s biennial budget at the insistence of the legislative “Roadkill Caucus” of conservative Democrats who frequently side with minority Republicans to pare back unemployment, workers’ compensation and other benefits for workers and the unemployed.
Released Dec. 16, this proposal would prohibit agreements on health benefits from local collective bargaining. Instead, school employees would be given token representatives on a statewide board that would purchase and provide benefits, and dictate point-of-service cost-sharing levels and premium costs for districts and employees.
This board would be heavily weighted toward administration. School districts would be at financial risk for variations in enrollment, and most administrative services would remain at individual school districts, including customer service, payments to carriers, audits and verifications, not to mention a great increase in reporting requirements to the state Health Care Authority.
There are significant costs to this proposal, including an additional $20 million taxpayer dollars to “start up” the system, and another $25 million per year of additional costs to be paid by education employees through “cost sharing” and higher premium rates.
But the highest cost will be paid by thousands of part-time educational employees who will lose health coverage all together. The plan proposes no compensation for low-wage employees who have historically traded off other wages and benefits for insurance coverage at the bargaining table.
Dubbed the “Wisconsin Plan” for its similarities to the plan put in place by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Washington plan looks to bring higher costs, poor customer service and bigger government to school employees and is opposed by AFL-CIO educational employee affiliates: the International Union of Operating Engineers, AFT Washington and the Teamsters union, as well as the Washington Education Association.
David Westberg is the Business Manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 609, representing classified school employees across Washington state. For more information, visit www.iuoelocal609.org.