Los Angeles Times Examines County Labor ‘Unrest’ Over Health Insurance
The Los Angeles Times on Monday examined the "labor unrest" that has begun to "ripple into the far-flung corners of county government" over contract offers, particularly to in relation to health insurance premiums. Almost all of Los Angeles County's 56 labor agreements have now expired, and a "major sticking point" in negotiations is the cost of health insurance, the Times reports. County negotiators are offering yearlong wage freezes along with health insurance premiums ranging from $17.50 per month for basic HMO coverage to $24.71 per month for the most expensive preferred provider plan for individual employees and $40.50 to $85 per month for family coverage. Previously, the county had paid all of employees' health insurance premiums. County negotiators also want to increase copayments for doctors from $5 to $10 per visit. However, many workers contend that the proposed increases are "unfair 'take-aways,'" and many unions -- including the "influential" Service Employees International Union Local 660 -- have begun to protest, the Times reports. "Our members are not unreasonable," Bart Diener, assistant general manager for SEIU Local 660, said, adding that union members are "not looking for big gains. But when you couple a wage freeze with the kinds of shifts in health costs the county is proposing, that's going backward." According to the Times, union workers believe that the county is "stingy" and that it is "reluctant to share the wealth in good times." Paul Roller, chair of the 12-member Coalition of County Unions, said, "The county has been crying wolf for a long time. Now, when it really is wolf, our people are no longer willing to accept it." However, Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said, "As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to put the county into bankruptcy," adding, "We have a finite amount of money here. And I think there's a sense of urgency to sign these contracts, because county workers know it could get even worse." Daniel Mitchell, a University of California-Los Angeles professor of public policy and management who specializes in labor relations, said, "The public sector is in particular trouble right now because of the state budget crisis. It's just going to filter down through all the layers of government." Thus far, most protests have been limited to lunch breaks, and most of the unions are still negotiating with the county, the Times reports (Fox, Los Angeles Times, 10/27).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.