Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I want my health ben-nies! 

Taxes for nothing and your schools for free.

The faculty union budget (and other unions on campus) are the lead headline in the University Chronicle today, and the discussion centers on the lack of money for rising health care costs. Along with a proposal to give promotions to faculty moving from associate to full professors without any increase in their salary (it's not enough money to solve any big issues, IMO, but I'm checking on that), the big issue is health benefits. The article claims that $138.3 million additional would be spent to maintain our health benefits at current levels, money not budgeted by the state Legislature.
The state proposed a new annual deductible of $200-1,000 for families, higher drug co-pays of $17 instead of the current $12 and a higher out-of-pocket maximum for drugs of $2,000 for families, compared to the current $600 maximum. Non-drug annual out-of-pocket maximum would go up to $4,000 from $1,600.

The dental program would be preventative only - no fillings, crowns or orthodontics - with an annual $400 per person maximum for benefits. ...

"It basically boils down to a salary decrease," said Wil Harri, who represents IFO [the faculty union] in the bargaining. ...

But Employee Relations Commissioner Cal Ludeman said there's nothing more he can do.

"To pretend that there's millions of dollars hiding in state agencies or in the state budget available for one more go-around, no there's not," Ludeman told the Star Tribune last week. "We've stretched. I've done everything I can to put together this best offer. We mean it."

Ludeman added that if the state keeps the benefits at the same level it would be too expensive and several hundred employees would be laid off. So far, 940 state workers have already been laid off.
Workers from AFSCME and MAPE have rejected this offer but are not yet threatening to strike. Harri is correct that it's a salary decrease, but that is in fact what has been voted for by the Legislature. Denying reality is not an option. The question is how we will bear the cost. We've already increased tuition 15%, I have no equipment budget, and salaries are 65% of costs, so where else shall we turn? But, as this document from the university shows, the plan all along was for a 5% salary increase and fringe benefits were planned to rise from 29% to 30% of salary costs. There's probably money on the table out there.