Rise in medical premiums sparks dissent

In what Daly City employees decry as a bad-faith move by the city in the thick of contract negotiations over medical benefits, workers said they were shocked to find that their portions of medical premiums had increased by as much as $120 on recent paychecks.

The increase came several months into labor negotiations between the city and Teamsters 856 and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The unions represent close to 200 city employees, ranging from police dispatchers, building and fire inspectors, clerks, librarians, custodians and others. The increase, union officials said, will put a crimp into talks.

“124 dollars was taken from my paycheck — that is a big hit for me,” said a city office assistant, who did not want to be named. “I worked with the city for 15 years and this is the thank you I’m getting for the hard work I’ve been putting in. I felt alittle betrayed that no one gave us a heads up.”

Daly City manager Pat Martel said the city mistakenly did not send a warning to employees about the increase but that a 10-percent hike was expected when 2008 began.

She said the city plans to reimburse the employees for January, but cannot promise future payments until contract talks are over and an agreement is finalized.

Under the previous contract with unions, which expired over the summer, the city was obligated to pay 80 percent of medical premiums. Union officials said they expected the city to notify workers that they would not honor the contract come 2008.

Last week, both unions filed an unfair labor practice charge with the California Public Employment Relations Board, claiming the city should have continued paying the same percentage even when the rates went up Jan. 1.

The city’s move puts pressure on the unions to reach an agreement, union negotiators said.

Since contracts expired, Daly City has been negotiating with 13 unions that represent several hundred city employees. The negotiations with the police union reached an impasse last month and the two sides met with a state mediator Wednesday.

Medical benefits is the most important issue under negotiation for all unions. AFSCME negotiator Nadia Bledsoe said the city may change the medical benefit system for AFSCME employees and pay a specific dollar amount instead of a percentage, which may leave employees unprotected from rising health care costs.

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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