City union offers cut in health benefits

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Toledo’s largest union of city employees has preemptively volunteered to cut its own health-care coverage as a bargaining chip in this spring’s contract negotiations.

The changes, most of which require city workers to pay a bigger part of their health-care costs, will save the city more than $1 million a year, officials project. In turn, union officials hope it will save them from other, deeper cuts in their benefits.

“They’ll have to take this into consideration when the contract talks start,” said George Tucker, regional director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8.

AFSCME’s Local 7, whose 900 members make it the largest union of city employees, approved the changes last week. Its contract expires June 30, and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has said repeatedly that the city’s labor costs need to be reduced to solve a budget crunch.

The health-care changes will apply to AFSCME Local 2058, which is made up of city supervisors and which approved the measure on Tuesday.

Among the changes:

* All employees must choose their doctors from a list of insurance-approved physicians. A worker who chooses a doctor not on the list will have to pay 20 per cent of the bill.

Marsha Serio, the city’s human resources director, said more than 80 per cent of Toledo doctors will be on the list. But she said that some employees will have to change doctors or face extra costs. A similar caregiver list will be created for mental health services.

* Families will pay a $200 deductible instead of $100, as well as a $10 co-payment for all office visits and a $25 fee for some emergency-room trips.

* Prescription costs will rise from $1 to $2 for generic-brand drugs, and from $4 to up to $8 for brand-name drugs.

Ms. Serio said the union’s current health-care plan is “very rich and broad in scope” and that the city spent $17 million last year on employee health care.

“We know where hospitalization costs are going, and they’re going way up. We wanted to help the city save money,” Mr. Tucker said.

He said the move was “definitely” a response to fears that the city would ask for even bigger cuts when Local 7’s con tract expires.

“I think coming up with some kind of agreement in midterm shows that we are committed” to fruitful negotiation, he said.

City council must vote to approve the changes.

If the changes are applied to all AFSCME employees and all exempt employees, the city would save more than $1.2 million a year, Ms. Serio said.

If they were applied to all city employees, the savings could top $2 million per year.

She did not say if the city would ask for similar concessions from other unions. “The city is always looking for ways to reduce health-care costs. … This agreement is a measure of how important those costs are to the city.”

No date has been set for the start of Local 7’s contract talks, but Ms. Serio said they could begin next month.