December 29, 2014

Arbritrator rules in favor of AFSCME over health insurance payment

Danny Homan

Danny Homan

Members of the union that represents the largest share of state workers are celebrating a victory that preserves health care benefits.

An arbitrator has sided with AFSCME, so state executive branch workers covered by the two-year contract will not get a pay raise, but they will not have to pay more for their health insurance.

AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan was joined by several union members as he met with reporters this afternoon. “Health insurance for the 2013 through the 2015 will remain as it currently exists in the current collective bargaining agreement,” Homan said.

“That’s important to these folks standing behind me and out there, because again for about the sixth time in the history of our bargaining, we have given up wages to maintain the health insurance that they currently enjoy.” Homan said the concessions the union made in wages were a key to the arbitrator’s ruling.

AFSCME members celebrate an aribitrator's ruling on their new contract.

AFSCME members celebrate an aribitrator’s ruling on their new contract.

The governor wanted state employees to pay 20-percent of the cost of their insurance.

“This governor did not focus on the real issue that everybody should be concerned about, that is what does the health insurance cost? All he focused on was trying to take 20-percent out of these folk’s pocket to put back in the state treasury. Iowans get a good deal on the cost of the health insurance that the state pays for its employees,” Homan said.

Homan said he did not want to call it a victory, but said they were able to maintain a majority of their contract language and their workers rights.

“I’m ecstatic because I’ve been sweating this award since February 13th. I’ve talked to a few of you who wanted to know what the award was. I did not know until one o’clock today,” Homand said. “I might for the first time in a long time be able to get a good night’s sleep for the most part preserved.”

Tim Albrecht, the governor’s communications director, says the overall deal is better than the current contract. “We are disappointed, however, that state employees will continue to be one of just six states that pay little or nothing toward their health care insurance,” Albrecht says.

“Governor Branstad believed that they should pay 20 percent. The arbitrator disagreed and we’ll abide by the contract.” Branstad, a Republican who took office in 2011, announced in the middle of 2012 that he’d start paying 20 percent of his own health care premium costs and many of his state managers did so as well, but the AFSCME union was able to resist that proposal through arbitration.

“Is it really fair for Iowa taxpayers to pay their full premium and then pay the full premium of state workers who aren’t engaged in wellness programs, who aren’t seeing their overall health improved? We don’t think so,” Albrecht says. “The artibrator disagreed and we’ll live with his decision.”

The governor’s spokesman says despite that disappointment, the overall agreement shows that unlike the D.C. beltway crowd, Iowa policymakers are able to govern. “The governor is pleased that both parties were able to sit down at the table and have an aggressive, fair negotiation and that just speaks to the Iowa spirit in terms of this bargaining,” Albrecht says.

 AFSCME represents about 20,000 workers in the executive branch of state government. The State Police Officers Council which represents about 600 state workers, including state troopers, struck a contract deal in January that will provide a one-time bonus to its members, equal to about 1.5% of their yearly salary.

That union, however, agreed its members will begin paying 20 percent of their health care premium costs.

Audio: Danny Homan talks about arbritrator’s ruling 18:45.

Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson also contributed to this story.