NEW YORK NURSE: July/August 2011
by Robin Wood
After months of opposing the employer trustees’ plan to cut the benefits offered by the NYSNA Benefits Fund and participating in binding arbitration, the association received the decision June 20 that the arbitrator, George Nicolau, had sided with the employer trustees, replacing all of the existing NYSNA Benefit plans with three new plans that will require employee contributions to the premiums, increase co-pays and make changes to offered coverage.
“We fought as hard as we could to preserve our members’ health insurance benefits, but we believe the current climate, with its emphasis on cost-cutting and penalizing workers for the rights and benefits they have sacrificed to achieve, worked against us,” said NYSNA CEO Tina Gerardi. “We believe that our members should have the right to bargain a wide range of plans at the negotiating table, and we will seek in our bargaining to reduce or eliminate the impact of these cuts.”
The three new benefit plans take effect Sept. 1, and nurses will be required to contribute to premiums in contracts as they are renegotiated. In accordance, with the federal Affordable Care Act, preventive care under the new plans will be provided without co-pays and members will be able to continue to cover dependent children to age 26. Members covered by the Benefits Fund, which includes 14,000 nurses in 38 bargaining units, will receive detailed information about the new plans from the Benefits Fund office.
The NYSNA Benefits Fund is governed by equal numbers of association and employer trustees. Trustees are required by law to have a mechanism for dealing with trustee deadlock, which for the NYSNA Benefits Fund is binding arbitration. Therefore, when the two groups of trustees could not agree on the plan’s benefits and costs, the matter went to mediation and finally to binding arbitration.
“Our position from the beginning was that nurses deserve the high quality health insurance benefits that they have had for the past 30 years,” said Nancy Kaleda, NYSNA special projects manager. “Nursing is a rewarding job, but it is also a difficult, stressful job that often has a physical impact on nurses’ health.”
Another compelling issue for the NYSNA trustees and the fund’s members was that the benefits fund was not financially stressed and, therefore, a reduction in benefits was not necessary or warranted.
“We tried to reach agreement with the employer trustees, but they wanted to cut too much out of the plan. We clearly see this as punitive, as part of the anti-union sentiment that is being driven by the difficult economy,” Kaleda said.
NYSNA’s campaign to preserve quality healthcare benefits has included member notifications, radio, print and Internet advertisements, mobilization to put pressure on the employer trustees and their hospitals, rallies, informational pickets and other collective activities, and an informational website at www.nysna.org/saveRNbenefits.
The new plans, which are known as A, B and C, take effect Sept. 1, 2011 with all participants initially enrolled in Plan A. The employee premium contribution is subject to bargaining, but local bargaining units that want to remain in the Benefits Fund must bargain one of three premium contribution options. The premium contribution ranges from $25 per month to $100 for an individual to a maximum family premium of $100 per month to $400 per month for four or more people.
The plans also include changes to prescription drug, in- and out-of-network and dental care coverage, including requiring the use of generic drugs and a “step therapy” program that requires that for some drug classes, members must try the generic or preferred drug brands before moving to other treatments.
“We know that healthcare benefits are a top priority for many of our members, and it’s a top priority for NYSNA,” said Lorraine Seidel, director of the Economic and General Welfare program.
“I encourage members to attend LBU meetings, talk to their NYSNA representatives, get active and engaged. The more nurses we have actively involved in supporting facility negotiations, the stronger we are at the negotiating table,” Seidel said.