Luzerne County union health care contributions gradually rising

Arbitration ruling means more workers paying a percentage instead of flat rate

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -

A recent union contract arbitration ruling brought Luzerne County government closer to its more than decade-long goal for all employees to pay at least 10 percent toward their health insurance.

Secretaries and other employees in the Court-Appointed Support Staff union hired before March 1, 2006, had been paying $14 for single coverage and $35 for family and other types of coverage in each bi-weekly pay.

Under a new binding arbitration agreement, all unionized court support workers hired before Jan. 1, 2016, must pay 10 percent.

The 2016 contributions deducted in every two weeks for employees at 10 percent contributions: single, $28; husband/wife, $66; family, $76; parent/child, $39; and parent/children, $55.

Non-union county employees have been paying 10 percent toward their health insurance since April 2004, setting off a push to get the county’s 10 collective bargaining agreements on the same page.

According to a Times Leader review of all union contracts, only two with flat monthly health care contributions remain:

• County detectives hired before 2012 pay $46 per pay toward insurance, regardless of the number of family members covered.

The detective union contract expires the end of this year.

• Probation and domestic relations officers in the Court Appointed Professional union pay $23 per pay for single coverage, $39 for parent/child and parent/children and $48 for family.

This contract expired the end of 2014, and the union and county are awaiting a binding arbitration ruling on the new pact.

Unions that can’t strike have the option to seek binding arbitration if negotiations reach an impasse.

Correctional officers and other unionized county prison employees also pay flat amounts but will switch to 10-percent contributions in 2018.

The prison union’s flat contributions in 2016, per pay: single, $23; husband/wife, $46; family, $56; parent/child, $33; and parent/children, $43. These flat amounts will increase 10 percent next year before the percentage change takes effect.

County Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik said he’s pleased with the percentage shift because the county’s annual health care tab is around $16.5 million.

Employee contributions toward coverage total around $1.5 million, he said. The county also receives some additional state and federal funding toward health care for several departments, including 911, community development and human service agencies.

Union contracts in recent years also have added wording allowing the county to recalculate the percentage contributions if health care costs rise, he said. In the past, some union contracts required percentage payments to remain fixed at the amounts in effect at the time the contracts were finalized.

“We have worked to get everyone on the new county rate schedule,” Parsnik said. “I’m happy now that just about every union employee is on the new rates.”

The county also switched from two insurance options to a single plan, the Highmark BlueCare HMO, he said.

This plan is still more generous than many in the private sector but now includes a $500 deductible — $1,000 for family — that kicks in for many services. Emergency room visits are not subject to the deductible, but a $100 copay was added and waived only for those admitted to the hospital.

The Court-Related Unit covering sheriff deputies and administrative and clerical staff in several offices has the highest contributions in the county — 12 or 15 percent, depending on the date of hire.

These percentages were in the previous contract, but a recent binding arbitration ruling gave the county the express power to base the percentages on the present costs.

New workers

Several other union contracts have risen beyond 10 percent toward health care for newer employees.

• Court-appointed support staff workers hired after Jan. 1 must pay 15 percent.

• Detectives hired after 2012 pay 12 percent.

• Residual Unit workers hired after Jan. 1, 2014, pay 15 percent. This union covers a range of 185 employees, from building and grounds maintenance workers and security officers to clerks and 911 dispatchers.

Unionized workers in the other unions are all at 10-percent contributions: assistant public defenders/district attorneys and workers at Children and Youth, Aging and Mental Health.

The 12-percent contributions per pay in 2016: $33, single; $79, husband/wife; $91, family; $46, parent/child; and $66, parent/children.

At 15 percent, the single coverage contribution rises to $41. The remaining breakdown: $99, husband/wife; $114, family; $58, parent/child; and $82, parent/children.

Some county officials have proposed switching employees to 20-percent health care contributions to reduce expenses in the cash-strapped county, including county Councilman Stephen A. Urban. Urban has said his private-sector employer’s insurance plan requires him to pay a $3,000 out-of-pocket deductible each year before his insurance covers medical treatment beyond a wellness physical.

Arbitration ruling means more workers paying a percentage instead of flat rate

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

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