More than 50 Newport-Mesa Unified School District employees expressed their concerns about rising healthcare costs at Tuesday's board meeting.
Union officials said having employees pay 3% more each month toward their plans, despite being recently offered a districtwide salary increase of 0.375%, would still represent a pay cut to all but the highest-paid employees. Considering that all employees would pay the same base increase in benefits, varying only by plan option and not income level, the higher wage earners would see a net gain when the salary hike is factored in.
Such a change would shift the "bulk of the burden onto those least able to afford it" and provide, in essence, an "unacceptable" income boost to those in the district who make more than $200,000 a year, according to a news release from the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers and California School Employees Assn. Chapter 18, which represents classified workers.
School board trustees, who heard more than hour of testimony on the issue, didn't comment on the matter since benefits negotiations are ongoing.
"I think we know that benefits are very important to employees," John Caldecott, the district's executive director of human resources, told the audience. "It helps to hear their perspective. We are, per board direction, going to be negotiating in good faith at the table. We've only begun discussion of the costs of benefits."
"I wish I could comment further," he added, "but it's not appropriate in a public forum."
David Johnson, president of CSEA Chapter 18, told the school board that "despite everything classified and certificated employees have excelled at in the service of our students and for Newport-Mesa, you have come to our table and left us a 3-cent tip. You are telling us that you don't value everything that we have done, that we haven't given enough.
"You don't value our work, and you don't value us."
Earlier this month, the school district and its two employee unions agreed that a 6% increase could be cut in half by having the employees pay higher co-pays and deductibles.
Union officials are negotiating for the district to cover the remaining 3%. The school district is anticipating rising healthcare costs — in particular a $2.3-million tax the district predicts it would owe on premium policies starting in five years under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Administrators have said the Cadillac tax is an unavoidable reality, but teachers do not believe the costs should be passed on to them.
Nicholas Dix, executive director of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, said it was "a shock" for the employees to "receive an offer of a salary increase instead of an increase in the employer's contribution to benefits, which is what we were expecting."
"They just responded with a wacky salary offer of .375%," he said. "In all the years that I've been negotiating contracts in a variety of public-sector environments, I've never seen a .375%. It's very unusual."