Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Offers To Share Equal Control of Health Fund
Unionized mechanics who have been on strike since Oct. 14 have agreed to discuss on Tuesday a new Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposal that proposes the union and MTA share control of the mechanics' health care fund, as the union has requested, if the union agrees to bear financial responsibility for future fund cost overruns, the Los Angeles Times reports. Under the new proposal circulated Monday morning, MTA would agree to equal representation on the six-member board and would pay as much as $4.7 million to make the fund solvent (Bernstein, Los Angeles Times, 10/21). The mechanics, who are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, had been working without a contract for more than a year before going on strike. Talks resumed this month after a more than two-month delay in negotiations. However, negotiations broke down last week over MTA's contribution to the union's health plan and the plan's management. MTA contributes about $1.4 million each month to the mechanics' health care fund, and the union is responsible for administering members' insurance policies. However, union leaders say health care costs have risen to about $1.9 million a month over the last year because of health insurance premium increases. The fund is now insolvent.
Union leaders have asked MTA to increase its contributions to the fund, but MTA officials say workers should pay more to support it. Last week, MTA, which has contributed $533 a month per mechanic to the fund since 1994, offered to increase its contribution to $634 per mechanic and to allocate $4 million to the fund to make it solvent, but it also demanded to temporarily take full control over the health fund. The union is requesting that the MTA increase its monthly contribution to the fund to $705 per mechanic, with annual increases of 15%. Union negotiators have offered to increase members' share of health insurance costs from $6 to $77 and said they would be willing to share control of the fund equally with MTA trustees (California Healthline, 10/15). Union President Neil Silver said the request in the new proposal that the union pay for any cost overruns in the fund was "really a disguised attempt to limit the amount that ... MTA pays for health care," the Times reports. The union is scheduled to meet with MTA at 2 p.m. Tuesday, and it may offer a counterproposal (Los Angeles Times, 10/21). NPR's "Tavis Smiley Show" on Monday interviewed KPCC reporter Rachel Myroe about the local impact of the strikes and Erwin Chemerinsky, professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California, and Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, about the national ramifications of the strikes (Smiley, "Tavis Smiley Show," NPR, 10/20). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
USA Today on Tuesday examined how health benefits have "emerged as the top concern" in negotiations between unions and employers and how disputes over the issue have prompted strikes in Southern California. According to USA Today, the strikes mark "the ending of an era when large employers covered most -- if not all -- of the cost of health care and the beginning of a future when workers will increasingly be responsible for those costs" (Armour/Appleby, USA Today, 10/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.