The Globe story of the moment is the (possibly) impending sale of the paper--but mounting resistance to a new, high-cost health plan among the members of the paper's biggest union is a noteworthy subplot.
Earlier this afternoon, a letter went out from more than 100 employees to publisher Steve Ainsley. They're asking management to restore a "significant portion" of $1.5 million in healthcare contributions that were recently eliminated, and arguing that bad info provided by the Times Co. prior to the Guild's contract vote earlier this year. It's a similar case to the one made in a recent missive to the Guild's own leaders--but sharper, aimed at the paper's top business-side guy, and signed by a whole lot more people.
Some interesting questions to ponder: 1) Since the Globe may be sold in the near future, how likely is it that Ainsley or the Times Co. will act, even if they're feeling generous? 2) Might labor dissatisfaction with health coverage, which could hint at tough contract negotiations to come, spook prospective bidders (esp. Tom Gores)--or, conversely, make the Times Co. marginally more inclined to unload the paper? 3) I've been told that the new plan, absent any new management mitigation, will carry about a $3,000 annual deductible for Guild employees. If that's correct, how many Globe staffers--especially in the newsroom--are going to do their damndest to find better-paying jobs?
Oct. 8, 2009
We are writing to you because we know you care deeply about the Globe, and understand that radically cutting health benefits is bad for employees, for their families, and for business. The proposed bare bones health plan puts individuals and families at risk for thousands of dollars in medical bills, while charging significantly higher premiums.
This is an unfair burden to place on employees who already have agreed to significant salary and benefit reductions, particularly since Boston Globe and New York Times Company executives stated publicly last month that the Globe’s finances have improved.
The plan would leave the Boston Globe embarrassingly out-of-step with other large companies, according to national studies.
We also believe the company was falsely optimistic with union members in the days preceding the July 20 vote, failing to indicate that approval of the concession package would put our comprehensive health insurance at risk.
For these reasons, we request that the Globe increase the company’s contribution to the union’s health care fund. We ask that the Globe restore a significant portion of the $1.5 million in quid pro quo payments that management has eliminated. We believe that you, as we do, want health coverage that is a source of pride for the company, not embarrassment.
If this plan takes effect, the Globe will eliminate all but catastrophic health care coverage for a large portion of its employees. It would create a caste system at the newspaper, providing superior coverage for managers and poorer coverage for employees.
We’ve been surprised to learn how poorly the Globe would compare to companies nationwide if this plan is implemented, and believe you would want to consider this information when deciding whether to restore company funding. According to a report last month from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Education Trust:
o The average company nationwide contributes 83 percent of the premiums for employees’ individual health care plans and 73 percent for family plans. Since the Guild contract was ratified in July, the Globe now contributes only 54 percent of employees’ premiums.
o Compared to the average health care plan nationwide, the Globe’s proposed bare bones plan will cost three times as much in annual premiums for individuals and 58 percent more for families.
o Compared to other high-deductible plans, which tend to have low annual premiums, the proposed plan would charge more than double the national average for families and more than five times the national average for individuals.
Both the New York Times and the Boston Globe have well-documented public stances on the need for affordable health care, as well as the need for employers to contribute fairly to their employees’ health benefits. We believe, if this health plan is implemented, the company would be in conflict with its own public positions.
In the weeks leading up to July’s contract ratification, Guild members received information about health care that we feel was misleading. In a Q&A for employees distributed on July 17, the company said the health care trustees could “work together with the plan provider, Harvard Pilgrim, on ways to mitigate the increase [in health care costs].” The same Q&A noted that “there is a substantial reserve in the [health care] Fund which will allow the trustees some time to negotiate with Harvard Pilgrim.” The implication was that health care costs would not rise substantially after the contract was ratified and that coverage would be preserved. Had members understood the consequences of the company’s reduction in health care contributions, and calculated the real loss of income that would represent, many would have voted “no” instead of “yes.”
For all the reasons outlined above, we ask the company to increase its contribution. We believe a company this size should do better for its employees.
William J. Cadigan
Katie Johnston Chase
Janet Insolia Ford
James L. Franklin
Wanda M. Joseph-Rollins
Joseph P. Kahn
Angela M. Nelson
L. Kim Tan
Jonathan Louis Wiggs