Akron unions “shocked and dismayed” at city’s retiree proposal

Akron police car

The four unions representing Akron employees are “shocked and dismayed” at a city proposal to have retirees start paying toward their supplemental health insurance and end that benefit for all future workers.

The unions also are threatening to sue if the city pursues the plan.

“Our retirees have earned, at the very least are owed, an acceptable benefit plan that has been agreed upon and signed by the city without unfair, unrecognized … modifications that are a clear violation of all four union’s collective bargaining agreements recently signed by the city,” the unions wrote in a joint two-page statement released this week.

The unions are: the Civil Service Personnel Association; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1360 and AFSCME Ohio Council 8; International Association of Fire Fighters Local 330; and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.

The unions also accused the city last year of engaging in “bad faith negotiations by secretly forming a select group of people tasked with formulating legislation to reform retiree health care, circumventing the negotiating process as defined by Ohio state law.”

The city and its unions agreed to new three-year contracts earlier this year that included raises and concessions on paying toward health insurance.

The city administration disagreed that the proposed changes for retirees would violate the contracts.

“While the administration respects the role of unions, in accordance with state law this is not a negotiable issue,” the mayor’s Chief of Staff James Hardy said in a prepared statement. “… Under the mayor’s legislation, current retirees would continue to be offered a competitive supplemental health benefit while achieving significant savings to taxpayers. These proposed changes would not impact any retirees’ primary health coverage from their respective pension funds or Medicare.”

Mayor Dan Horrigan unveiled the proposal earlier this month, saying the city can no longer afford to offer the free benefit.

There are 2,406 retirees covered by the city now, with the supplemental health care extended to an additional 1,648 dependents.

The administration estimated the current cost at $6 million and said it would grow to more than $11 million in 10 years if not adjusted.

Legislation now before City Council calls for retirees to pay $30 a month for health plans for singles and $60 for families. That would fall in line with what current employees pay.

The legislation also would make the supplemental health plan mirror the one offered to current workers and require spouses who are eligible for health care elsewhere to take it, in most cases, or pay a surcharge.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released its 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey last week showing that 72 percent of state and local governments, those with 200 or more employees, offer retiree health benefits. The survey didn’t examine supplemental benefits.

Only 24 percent of private and public employers with more than 200 workers provide a retiree health benefit, the survey found.

City Council President Marilyn Keith said the council is weighing the legislation and the threat of litigation.

It’s possible, she said, that the council won’t implement all aspects of the proposal.

The city administration wants the council to approve the changes in advance of the Medicare open enrollment period, which begins Oct. 15.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.