|The News Line: Feature
Tuesday, 7 November 2017
YALE EMPLOYEES DEMAND UNION RECOGNITION!
HUNDREDS of people gathered on the streets of New Haven, Connecticut, on Saturday morning to call for good jobs.
They are waiting in frustration for Yale University to validate their union. They were also there to celebrate the opening of a new community centre. Yale employees and their supporters rallied and marched because they want to negotiate with the university on issues like equal pay and health care.
Many of the marchers were Yale University graduate teachers. They want contracts for their union, Local 33-UNITE HERE. They voted to join earlier this year. Lena Eckert-Erdheim said: ‘I’m a resident of New Haven and a graduate teacher at Yale. I want to fight for my union and fight for strong institutions in the city that I live in.’
Graduate teachers say they want Yale to recognise the results of that election, and to come to the negotiating table. The march ended at the groundbreaking for the Q-House, a new community centre. Graduate teachers supported the opening of the new community centre.
They had the support of the community, including from members of the organisation New Haven Rising. They came together to celebrate the new Q-House. However, marchers were also focused on change. They were hoping to come together, and to get the university’s attention.
‘It was really great to have such amazing turnout from the community, and really for us to be able to turn out for the community too,’ said Eckert-Erdheim. Yale University claimed in a statement: ‘There hasn’t been a worker strike at Yale since 2003. That’s a great record of cooperation for which UNITE HERE and Yale should be proud.’
Graduate teachers say they’ll keep fighting for the university to recognise their unionisation.
• By over a 90% margin, educators at California Virtual Academies (CAVA) have voted overwhelmingly to authorise a strike after over a year trying to negotiate their first contract with CAVA administration.
California Virtual Educators United (CVEU) has been working to address teacher and student turnover by raising CAVA’s shockingly low, uncompetitive salaries and to ensure a manageable student to teacher ratio that supports quality instruction and learning.
CAVA, which contracts with national online, for-profit charter giant K12, Inc., hires instructors at low pay to teach as many students as possible with low overhead, then funnels California tax-payer funding back to executives in Virginia and their investors to pay for management fees, technology, and other services. CVEU represents 450 CAVA teachers.
Ongoing sessions with a state mediator have so far failed to produce a settlement. While continuing to work and hope for a fair resolution, CAVA members see last week’s vote as a strong show of determination and unity. Additional mediation dates are scheduled for November 28 and 29th.
‘Our members are deeply dedicated to the over 10,000 students we serve,’ said CVEU president Brianna Carroll. We believe in what we are doing and are working to negotiate changes that will benefit our students and stop the high turnover that is turning CAVA into a revolving door for teachers and enriching an out-of-state, for-profit company at the expense of better quality teaching and learning, and adequate resources for the kids best served by an online model.’
K12, Inc. and CAVA, who bitterly fought the unionisation of CAVA teachers and their representation by the California Teachers Association, have been plagued by other issues reflecting poor management. Last year CAVA agreed to a $168.5 million settlement with the California Attorney General over concerns related to business practices, student performance, and use of public funds.
Last month CAVA was required to pay back nearly $2 million to the State of California based on ongoing problems with the reporting of attendance, teacher to pupil ratios and student progress.
CVEU believes its unionisation and a strong contact settlement will help make kids, not profits, more of a priority for CAVA management.
• Thousands of Iowa state employees, many who no longer are allowed to bargain collectively for benefits, could face significantly higher health care costs starting January 1 under a plan that will provide sizable savings to state coffers.
Officials with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services say they are unable to calculate the total cost of the 2018 state employees’ group insurance programme through Wellmark until after the enrollment period ends November 17th. But a preliminary analysis of executive branch employees indicates the state would save $20.5 million, while costs for 18,789 workers would go up at least $11.7 million.
The annual cost of the contract is estimated at $312.8 million, nearly $9 million less than now.
However, the numbers supplied by the state’s Department of Management for the calculation do not include regent system employees, retirees, state public safety officers still covered under collective bargaining and two smaller classifications that likely would push the overall employee cost share higher.
There are about 5,800 regents merit-covered employees and about 4,600 retirees in the 2017 plan year. Retirees bear the full cost of premiums. It’s going to be a significant cost shift,’ said Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, the state’s largest public-sector union.
He noted that the 2018 plan redesign replacing five insurance options with just two new options could mean considerably higher premiums and more out-of-pocket costs for workers who got a 1% pay increase. It’s atrocious,’ he added. ‘They’re trying to balance their budget on the backs of hardworking men and women.’
Figures from Administrative Services show that full-time AFSCME state employees covered under the least expensive option now pay $20 a month for either a single or family plan. Under the new design, that will go to $40 per month under the single rate or $150 per family for the Iowa Choice option; or $93 a month for single coverage and $273 per family under the National Choice option.
Currently, those employees can choose also more expensive plans with enhanced benefits – ranging up to $335 a month for the costliest option, the figures show. Under both Wellmark options, the Blue Access network and the Alliance Select network, there would be a $250 deductible for single coverage and $500 for family coverage.
Copays for visits to a primary care provider would be $15 or $30 for specialists. Out-of-pocket expenses would be capped at $1,000 for single coverage and $2,000 for families. Under the new rates, the state employees would annually pay between $480 for the cheapest single plan and $3,276 for the most expensive family plan.
Republicans on the Iowa Executive Council – Governor Kim Reynolds, State Auditor Mary Mosiman, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate – approved the new Wellmark design. But State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, the lone Democrat, voted against it.
He said: ‘The state is offering a lot less. ‘There’s absolutely no say for employees. This is really, “Here’s what you get.” It’s take it or leave it – Hobson’s choice. There’s no input from the other side. No consideration at all. I think it’s unfair.’
Up until February, employee fringe benefits such as health insurance were covered under a collective bargaining law that dated to the 1970s. Former Governor Terry Branstad repeatedly demanded that state employees pay a greater share of their health insurance costs, but his efforts were thwarted by binding arbitration rulings that favoured union workers’ bargaining positions that often sacrificed higher wages to keep their health costs down.
During the 2017 legislative session, majority Republicans in the House and Senate revamped the collective bargaining law to remove health insurance and other benefits as subjects for negotiations – except for the State Police Officers Council, whose roughly 600 members still bargain with the state over contract benefits.
Branstad signed House File 291 into law before he resigned as governor to become US ambassador to China. ‘They did this to hurt public sector employees,’ said the AFSCME’s Homan. ‘They did this because Terry Branstad has wanted to go after state employees’ health insurance. Where’s Terry Branstad right now? He’s on the premium health insurance in China.’
Last month, a Polk County judge upheld the constitutionality of the 2017 collective bargaining law rewrite. AFSCME officials are deciding whether to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.
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