Below are answers to questions that arose during the June 29 Tele-Town Hall.
Why are we proposing a 4-year contract rather than the usual 2-year agreement?
There are several reasons including:
- A longer term agreement could help shield us from the near-daily attacks on us as public workers;
- If we have a 4-year agreement, the State would be unable to demand concessions again in 2 years;
- A 4-year agreement would provide greater certainty and stability; and
- A 4-year contract could be a way to build in more economic gains in the second half of the agreement since there is hope that the economy will have recovered by then.
But our real goal is winning improvements in our take-home pay. If a 2-year agreement accomplishes that then the bargaining team will recommend a yes vote.
What is the status of the reforms and efficiencies we proposed in the Moving Oregon Forward report that identified over $1 billion in savings based on member ideas?
We’ve made considerable progress based on the recommendations of our report:
• HB 2020, mandating management to staff ratios passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature.
- A budget note regarding prescription drugs on the Corrections Budget was passed.
- Substantial changes in the DAS budget endorsing many of our recommendations—limiting contracting, reducing service and supplies, laying off managers—all brought down costs for other agencies.
- There were substantial changes in tax expenditures that were up for renewal.
- Money was added to Medicaid Fraud Unit to create additional positions.
- A DAS budget note was attached encouraging a review and follow-up report on duplication in small agencies.
- An OUS budget note was attached requiring that other employees throughout the university system must share cuts to classified staff equally.
- A number of Revenue budget notes were attached to force agency managers to look into their Strategic Planning Unit Division, their plan for contracting IT more closely, and how the Revenue Department projections are tied to Revenue Forecasts as part of continuing pressure on DOR to meet higher standards.
One reason we were able to protect critical services is because of our overall proactive agenda, which seeks both to propose solutions and place the blame for the broken economy where it belongs.
Has the union bargaining team considered an alternate workweek or other concessions that would be voluntary as a means of avoiding concessions on core economics?
At this point in bargaining, our focus has been on beating back cuts, not proposing new ones. But these and other ideas that members have proposed will be passed on to the bargaining team.
What is the State’s current proposal on furloughs?
The State’s current proposal for furloughs for DAS workers in a 2-year agreement is:
|Monthly wage||Year 1||Year 2|
On a positive note, we have won a change to the way furloughs are administered so that managers no longer have the right to implement furloughs as pay reductions, unpaid holidays, or unscheduled vacations.
Is there a difference between furloughs for DAS and OUS?
Yes. Furloughs, steps and equity adjustments are negotiated separately for DAS and OUS. In OUS, furloughs, steps, equity adjustments are negotiated at an OUS-specific table. The OUS proposal is a continuation of the current furloughs.
Would it be possible to voluntarily use vacation rather than taking a furlough day?
This is something currently being discussed.
Can there be an exemption for emergency services workers?
The state’s initial approach for “essential” workers was to insist upon a pay reduction, unpaid holidays or unscheduled vacation days at management’s discretion. We successfully moved the state off this proposal.
Has the hiring freeze come up at the table? How do we get the State hiring again?
Hiring is not a subject of bargaining. However, the need to fully staff critical services has been a common theme of the Union’s work and was a driving force behind the effort to mandate an 11:1 or higher ratio of workers to manager. A bill requiring this has been passed by the legislature and awaits the Governor’s signature.
How is state justifying its horrible proposals?
The State typically points to a $3 billion hole in the State budget and the fact that employees of nearly every other state in the country contribute to their healthcare and retirement plans. Our bargaining team has consistently countered that destroying middle class jobs is not the way to fuel an economic recovery, and that state employees have and will continue to make sacrifices that help close the budget gap.
Have we explored a cafeteria plan or a provision to allow us to opt out of health care coverage?
Our benefits and the rules around opting out of our health insurance are determined by the Public Employees Benefit Board (PEBB.) We are unable to bargain over plan design or the types of plans offered. However, PEBB does offer a common component of a cafeteria plan – a flexible savings account that allows you to use pre-tax dollars to pay for eligible out-of-pocket healthcare or dependent care expenses. PEBB also has an opt-out provision for workers who have coverage from another employer group plan.
What will the impact of the Affordable Care Act (National Health Care Reform) have on our benefits?
A few of the provisions in the ACA, for example extending coverage to dependents through age 26, providing free preventative care and providing access to people with pre-existing conditions, went into effect last year. However, the vast majority will not go into effect until 2014 when most Americans will have access to health insurance through their employers or through the state exchanges. To learn more about the ACA check out HealthCare.gov.
Will coverage change mid-year?
This is a decision that is made by the PEBB Board and is not a topic of bargaining. However, we do not anticipate that PEBB will be making further changes in plan design mid-year based on the health care cost forecasting for the next biennium.
Can the state declare bankruptcy to avoid paying PERS? What would happen with PERS if we won a 4-year contract?
No. The state cannot declare bankruptcy to avoid their PERS obligation. One reason that we have proposed a longer-term contract is that it would provide greater retirement security. Given the current political climate where attacks on state workers’ retirement are commonplace, not having to defend PERS again in two years could be beneficial.
Has the bargaining team proposed anything like a COLA or other payment to offset a healthcare premium share?
No, because we have not accepted the State’s proposal on premium share. But these and other ideas will be shared with the bargaining team should it become necessary to explore trade-offs.
Why is the Governor insisting on premium share?
Governor Kitzhaber has stated that he believes that everyone should pay into their healthcare costs. What he seems unable to appreciate is the fact that we have paid yearly into our healthcare costs, in the form of plan design changes and contract negotiations wherein we voted to forgo wage increases in order to protect our quality healthcare.
Are steps a priority? What are the current proposals?
Steps are a top priority for the bargaining team. The State’s current proposal is to freeze steps for the next two years. Your bargaining team has proposed continuing steps.