Members React After Senate Meeting

SEA President Diana Lacey, at podium, addresses members of the Collective Bargaining Senate on Tuesday as members of Master Bargaining Team look on behind her.

SEA President Diana Lacey, at podium, addresses members of the Collective Bargaining Senate on Tuesday as members of Master Bargaining Team look on behind her.

On Tuesday night, the Executive Branch Collective Bargaining Senate (CBS) overwhelmingly voted to approve a bargaining settlement proposal reached between the State and the SEA Master Bargaining Team (MBT) earlier that day. After reviewing the proposal, the CBS voted along with the MBT’s recommendation to accept the proposal as a tentative agreement (TA).

The CBS has referred the TA to a ratification vote by the SEA bargaining unit members with a recommendation that members should accept it. The TA is being mailed out with a ballot this week, and next week bargaining team members and SEA staff will begin making site visits to answer questions and address concerns members may have about the agreement.  In the meantime, you can get more information about the TA here.  Check this page frequently, as it will be updated with a schedule of regional and worksite meetings, as well as other materials we will be developing to better explain some of the new concepts in this TA, including a health plan deductible and a site of service option.

We spoke with a few of the SEA members in attendance Tuesday night to get their reactions.

Liz Collins, who has served on the master bargaining team few contract cycles ago, said it felt like the focus of the evening was to get the CBS to pass the agreement on to members for a vote.

“There’s no question this proposal is much better for the membership than the last proposal that we saw, there’s no question in my mind,” she said. “But there are still a couple of issues that are of concern.”

She said she was concerned that the presentation didn’t allow people to see both the positives and the negatives.  Senate members wrote down their questions, as the top three issues the bargaining team was sent back to the table to address back in June were presented.  Only minutes into the question and answer period, senate members motioned to send the settlement out for a ratification vote with a recommendation to accept (ratify) the deal.  A handful of questions later, with more still to be answered, senate members called the question and voted.

“I think people need to know what it is they’re voting for,” Collins said.  Ultimately, though, she said all members need to take time to evaluate what the proposal means to them in order to make an informed vote.

Collins was not alone in her concern.  Master Bargaining Chair, Jim Nall, deferred to the will of the Senate seeing their nearly unanimous support to take the vote even before all questions were answered.  “This is their meeting and I asked what their will was and they chose to vote rather than give more time for questions.  That’s why we will do our best to provide more information through work site meetings, online and hopefully some evening meetings,” said Nall.

After the CBS ordered the bargaining team back to the table in late June, SEA field representatives held dozens of worksite meetings throughout the Executive Branch to give everyone an opportunity to learn more about the first proposed settlement, given that the Senate asked the team to focus on improving only three priority issues:  wages, health care and sick leave, the extra effort to educate members about the health care provisions — even back in June — seemed a worthy investment.  Paula Bundy, a councilor who works at Health and Human Services, was there Tuesday night, as she was back in June, and said afterwards she thought members were ready to move forward.

“For me, individually, I’m looking forward to signing a new contract and I think a lot of people who were there are looking forward to the same thing,” she said. “I’m not really sure what the result would be in going to fact-finding. It could be good or bad, we could get a better deal, we could get a worse deal.”

Casey Horner, who works at DOIT and is the vice president of Chapter 5, was there as a non-voting guest. He said he was comfortable with the agreement.

“Understanding the concessions and why we needed to make them and the efforts the bargaining team put forward to counterbalance them, it seemed like a fair trade to me,” Horner said, in reference to the deductibles that are part of this agreement.

“The combo of the sharing of the health benefit savings, the lump sum payments and the raises to come all work well to make me feel we’re getting a good trade-off,” he said. “The only concern I have is that we’d have to negotiate that kind of trade-off in the future. For now, though, I like the effort to ease us into it.”

Both Bundy and Horner said worksite visits to explain the agreement, especially the deductibles, would be very helpful.

“I’m a little concerned about the deductible,” Bundy said. “I’m looking forward to getting some more answers from an on-site meeting.”

Horner said he’s been encouraging members and nonmembers alike to attend the on-site meetings.

“I’ve been telling people all morning, because it’s clear not everyone understands the deductible concept and how it’s applied to us,” Horner said. “I’ve had people say they think they’ll have to pay a deductible just to see their doctor.”

“People hear ‘site of service,’ but they don’t know what that means — they want it in plain English,” he said.  SEA President, Diana Lacey, noted “With the Affordable Care Act in place, members will need a lot of clarity because news coverage about health care changes can get confused with what our plan covers, costs, and what doctors and services we have access to.  When you add the existence of tax sheltered vehicles to help pay for health care costs employees incur — and our new plan will have a few options, on top of Flexible Spending Accounts many workers self fund — it is easy to understand why people have a lot of questions.

Site of service, in its simplest terms, is a list of facilities for lab work or outpatient surgical procedures that Anthem prefers; you can avoid paying a deductible if you go to those facilities. Anthem has a website that explains site of service:

“I just really hope people attend the worksite meetings, members or not,” Horner said. “Some just wait to hear people pass it by word of mouth, which is fine, but it’s better to hear it from an informed source.”

Bundy, who along with Horner volunteered to help prepare the tentative agreement and ballots to be mailed, applauded the bargaining team’s work.

“I feel the bargaining team worked really hard, and I appreciate their efforts,” Bundy said. “I think at this point in time, until I get my other questions answered, that it’s a favorable deal.”

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