A coalition of unions representing employees of the Town of Berlin has reached agreement with the town administration on healthcare covering all the workers. The coalition includes two units of UE Local 222, the statewide public employee union. These are Sub-local 52, the blue collar workers, and Sub-local 28, white collar workers.
This is the second coalition bargaining agreement on healthcare between the town and the alliance of five unions, which also includes the Home Health Care Workers-AFSCME, Berlin Police Union-AFSCME Local 1318, and Middle Management Association.
“We’ve found that we’re one of the only locations where unions have done this,” says Billy DeBlasio, president of Sub-local 52. “We all benefit by doing well as a group and keeping our rates down, for the employees and the town. When we started everybody had different health plans and different co-pays. Some didn’t have a cap on prescriptions, some did, it was a giant mess.” Bargaining that first agreement was complicated and tough, he said, but unions tried to incorporate the best elements from each unit’s health plan into the new coalition agreement. That process began in late 2009 and took several months. Donna Slimsky, president of Sub-local 28, said of that first agreement, “Now the unions cannot be played off against each other over health insurance in our regular contract negotiations.”
DeBlasio echoes that view today. “Healthcare is no longer a bargaining chip against wages and other things when we negotiate our collective bargaining agreement.” Bargaining the second health agreement was much simpler than the first one, he says. “We knew right where to go for savings, and there were minimal changes.” Prescription co-pays are going up slightly, and there’s a rebate for those who participate in a wellness program. The new agreement adds, as an option, a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account. “Our HR department has worked well with us and they listen to our ideas,” DeBlasio adds.
The coalition bargaining committee included DeBlasio, Slimsky, representatives of the other three unions, negotiating with the town’s representatives. Members of both UE sub-locals voted to approve the agreement. The same committee is now in discussions about the pension, hoping to jointly negotiate to protect workers’ pensions.