"We will fight against the cost shifting attempts of the administration."

Rally for Affordable and Accessible Health Care at the U

Speech given by Cherrene Horazuk, President, AFSCME 3800

August 5, 2013

AFSCME 3800 is proud to stand here today in solidarity with faculty and staff as we tell the University administration that we will fight for this to be a University for the 99%, not the 1%. We will fight to preserve affordable and accessible healthcare for all University employees and our families, because we know that health care is a life and death issue.

The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – was never intended as a vehicle for employers to enrich themselves at employee expense. Yet that is exactly what the U is trying to do. They are saying that they need to shift costs to employees now so that they prevent the possibility of portions of the U’s plan being a taxable Cadillac plan beginning in 2018.

This is a straight up effort to take $1.8 million from employees each year beginning in January.  They plan to make us pay more, while the U pays less and pockets the difference. Where will that money go? If the past 10 years is anything to go by, it will be used to continue enriching those at the top.

University leadership has continuously told us that the U cannot subject itself to this tax – that they are concerned about taxpayer money.

Where was the Administration’s concern for tax payers and their children, however, when:

  1. Tuition was doubled over the past 10 years?
  2. The U spent $2.8 million on severance and leave packages for a dozen senior administrators?
  3. 85 academic administrative positions were added between 2008 and 2012.
  4. The number of U employees earning above $200,000 grew by 57% since 2001 and the number earning above $300,000 has doubled?
  5. They gave President Kaler a salary of $610,000. (The governor’s salary, in comparison, is $120,000.)
  6. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars on sports facilities and buying out the contracts of failed coaches.

Suddenly, however, there’s a great concern for the taxpayer. Don’t be fooled. The U is merely using the ACA as another vehicle to take money from employees in order to enrich administration.

We call upon the administration to put the breaks on their planned cost-shift. There is plenty of time to explore real alternatives that will preserve health coverage for employees while avoiding the designation of a “Cadillac plan”. They could start by renegotiating with the providers to reduce the rates on the few parts of the plan that potentially will go over the threshold five years from now.  They can commit to never again take money from our health insurance plan and put it in the general fund. They can also commit to a wage-based sliding scale health premium system that will provide some level of equity in health costs between the richest and poorest workers at the U.

The people at the top have lost touch with reality. They have no idea about the struggles and challenges that the rest of us have to pay our bills and survive on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. We recently met with a senior administrator who voiced his incredible frustration with the legislature this year, particularly the fact that legislators were concerned with administrator salaries. As he spoke to a room full of clerical and technical workers, he said, in a voice dripping with derision, “We’re not going to pay people $35,000 a year.” Many unionized staff at the U would need raises in order to make $35,000 – yet he can’t imagine administrators living on that.

10 years ago, employee only health insurance coverage at the U was free for employees. In the past ten years, Employee plus family coverage has increased in cost 1000% for employees. We have also seen multiple increases in copays. In discussions at the Benefits Advisory Committee, AFSCME has voiced over and over the fact that our members are already cutting back on health care because the cost is prohibitive. Dann Chapman, Director of Employee Benefits, first responded by saying they had no proof of this. So we gathered evidence. When confronted with that information, he responded by saying that he wasn’t talking about individual cases and decisions that are made, he was talking about whether or not there was an overall decline in the use of our insurance. In other words, as long as most people can use it, he is fine with poorer employees choosing not to use it.

We reject this. And fortunately, we have unions at the University that the administration must negotiate with. They cannot merely impose their decisions. So we are leading the charge, but call on all employees to join us, because we are in this fight together.

We will fight against the cost shifting attempts of the administration.

We will fight for accessible health care for all employees, not just those at the top or those who don’t have ongoing health problems.

We will fight for a dignified and livable wage for all employees at the U, so that we can not only afford the doctor’s visits and medications that we and our family members need, but so that we can also afford to get ahead – to finish our education, to fund our children’s education, to save for retirement, to be able to take a vacation, in short to live a life with dignity, free from the stress of always wondering whether we can afford to pay this months utility bills and put food on the table.

We will also fight to keep this university affordable and accessible for the working class students of this state.

We will fight to hold the University administration truly accountable to the tax-payers of Minnesota.

After all, that’s what we have been doing since we organized our union 20 years ago.