October 20, 2010

WFSE/AFSCME members jam benefits board meeting, ask for help in health care fight

Federation members in AFSCME green jammed the meeting of the Public Employees Benefits Board today as they made a direct request on the 58th day waiting for the state to return to the health care bargaining table with a realistic proposal.

“Adequate health care is a necessity,” said Brad Samples, a Local 53 member with DSHS in Tacoma.

Samples wore black to make a statement about the pall the governor’s proposed health care package has cast over state employees. The governor wants state employees to pay 26 percent of their premiums, a 117 percent increase over the current 12 percent. That would mean an estimated pay cut of about $2,316 a year.

“Darn it, I didn’t get in the business as a social worker or as state employee with lust for personal wealth,” Samples said. “I did it for reasons to try to improve my world, my community around me.

“Unfortunately, we all need to be able to pay for minimum necessities of life….What has been proposed of further increases, it will be undoable for a number of individuals."

Samples presented a bundle of letters from other members explaining the economic harm the proposed increases would mean.

He read one from a member already hard-pressed by the out-of-pocket costs that went up this year, on top of no pay raises, pay cuts from furlough days and other sacrifices.

“There are times when I and my wife go without food so that our two children have something to eat,” the member wrote.

The Federation delegation showed up to enlist the benefits board’s support for innovative solutions to the huge cost increases proposed by the governor. A core minority of the board, led by Federation Executive Director Greg Devereux, is often narrowly outvoted.

Steve Segall, a Local 443 member with DSHS in Olympia and a member of the General Government Bargaining Team, said legislators OK’d using a reserve fund, the “premium stabilization account,” to keep costs level in 2011.

“We believe that the hardships continue as we look into subsequent years,” Segall said. “We believe that those reserves should be used again. And we ask for your support to move forward into this legislative session.”

The board meets again Nov. 17 over the complicated issue of “redesigning” the Uniform Medical Plan and examining costs in hospitals used in the UMP.

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