Our first mediation meeting will be on Wednesday, August 8th. This post is an effort to share with members what was said at the last (July 26th) negotiations session to help clarify how we got here and what the arguments are on both sides.
“Your view is to keep the stipend, our view is to step it down.” –Todd Lyon, Lead Negotiator for City of Corvallis Management
As you can see above, the shortest answer to the question of why we are going to mediation is that Management is not budging on the issue of the stipend. We have heard loud and clear from members that the stipend must stay, but the best offer we’ve received from Management is an elimination of the stipend paired with low COLAs (Cost of Living Adjustments).
At the July 26th negotiation session, the Union presented Article 18 (Wages) with the stipend intact and COLAs of 4% each year for the life of the contract (5 years). Management responded with the exact same proposal for Article 18 that we had been given previously: the stipend was included, but with a step down (1st year fully funded; 2nd year funded at 50%; eliminated indefinitely following year) and lower COLAs than a prior proposal without the stipend (1st and 2nd year 1%; 3rd year 1.5%; and 4th and 5th year 2%).
Management made it clear that they believed the Union’s stance on Article 18 was halting the negotiations process and making it necessary to move to mediation. The Negotiations Team disagreed as we believed there was room for further discussion; however, seeing no alternative, we agreed to move forward with mediation.
What Management said:
Why the stipend should be cut:
- Management has conceded that immediately eliminating the stipend would be hard for the Union and that is why they changed their proposal to reflect a stepping down of the stipend. Management believes the step down is a significant concession.
- An analysis of comparator cities shows that Corvallis is leading in terms of the lowest costs paid by employees for health care.
- It is an economic issue. (We have not seen any numbers or heard further specifics from Management regarding adverse economic impact.)
- To be a true HDHP, employees should be contributing to it. Employees need to have “skin in the game”.
What the Union said:
Why the stipend should stay:
- Members cannot afford for the stipend to go away. Now that our membership has experience with this plan, they have a better sense of how decreasing contributions would affect them. Our health care benefits are a 3-legged stool: the stipend, the contribution, and the HDHP; if we lose one, the stool falls.
- The stipend has been an effective solution for a health plan that is cost prohibitive for members; the stipend is popular and well-liked by employees, while accounting for a very small cost to the City.
- The City should be proud that it leads in low health care costs compared to comparator cities as it goes along with being an employer of choice, something the City strives for and claims to be. We fail to see the benefit in worsening something that is working well for members.
- Cutting the stipend amounts to about a 2% pay reduction for the average City of Corvallis AFSCME member, while we just watched Management give itself a 3% raise.
- Losing the $1000 stipend is equal to approx. 50% of one take-home paycheck a year for some of our lowest paid workers.
- As mentioned in the Bottom Line #7, Joan Extrom’s testimony was compelling and it emphasized the need for receiving the stipend in a lump payment.
- Studies have been finding that people enrolled in HDHPs tend to delay or decrease care (see this article from the Journal of the American Medical Association; see this article from Managed Care magazine; see this article from the New York Times).
What the City said:
Why we should go to mediation:
- With no traction on the stipend being stepped down, it is difficult for Management to continue the economics discussion with the Union.
- We are nearing the end of our 150-day negotiating period and we are not agreeing on the stipend.
- Mediation is not a threat, we need help
What the Union said:
Why we shouldn’t go to mediation yet:
- We have only met 7 times (a small number for a bargaining unit of this size). We fail to see the need for mediation now when we are making progress on many other articles. It feels like Management is unwilling to continue to negotiate when we are making progress.
- Issues raised about the affordability of the health care plan for members are not going to be addressed in mediation. We are pointing out a big problem that requires a solution and Management is not helping us find a solution.
- Because mediation was brought up previously and within just a few negotiations sessions also when progress was being made, it feels like Management is using mediation as a threat.