Cumberland Times-News

Local News

August 27, 2013

Firefighters union holding up city’s health care switch, mayor says

CUMBERLAND — The United Food and Commercial Workers Union appealed to Cumberland officials Tuesday for information on stalled negotiations over the selection of a new health care benefits package for the city’s rank and file employees.

There are three unions, the UFCW, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the International Association of Firefighters Local 1715, that represent most city workers.

The issue on the table is the desire of the city, along with the UFCW and AFSCME, to switch health care packages from Blue Cross Blue Shield to CIGNA.

“At this point our negotiations are stalled. It’s frustrating,” said Doug Menapace of the UFCW Local 1994, which represents city police officers.

According to city officials, the change from BCBS to CIGNA will allow employees a broader choice of doctors at a lower premium.

The city, UFCW and AFSCME have all been in agreement in their desire to switch to CIGNA. However, the firefighters local has opposed the change.

BCBS recently implemented a 10 percent increase in health care premiums, effective July 1.

“The ever increasing health care premiums have caused our members to suffer,” said Menapace.

A switch to the less costly CIGNA plan, which is made available through the Local Government Insurance Trust, will help the city realize an annual savings of about $440,000, according to city officials.

The main issue surrounding the logjam is how the money saved by the city, from the switch in health plans, will be used.

“Is the continued delay in our inability to make a move to the new health care plan a result of the firefighters’ refusal to go along?” Menapace asked the council during public input.

Mayor Brian Grim confirmed that the IAFF is preventing the health care switch from moving forward.

“We are currently considering impasse mediation with the IAFF and we are also considering other available options. We feel it’s (the CIGNA plan) a pretty good plan all the way around,” said Jeff Rhodes, city administrator.

“It’s unfortunate our counterpart is hanging us out to dry, so to speak,” said Menapace.

Menapace said the CIGNA plan allows choices of out-of-state doctors that BCBS did not. He said prescription coverage is better under CIGNA as well.

“I understand collective bargaining. At the end of the day when their (IAFF) decisions (to hold out) has impacted my members in a negative way, there isn’t anything you can do but stand up and put a voice behind it,” said Menapace.

Ken McKenzie, president of the Cumberland IAFF Local 1715, was interviewed by the Times-News by phone following the City Hall meeting.

“We have not stopped progress on it. We are at a mediation point,” said McKenzie.

McKenzie said that Local 1715 has obtained an attorney.

“We want to help the city save money, but we want to address some of our issues as well,” said McKenzie.

The IAFF local, according to McKenzie, wants to see the funds, saved by a health plan change, used to maintain staffing of the fire department.

“We want to work with a 13-member staff,” said McKenzie.

Budgetary issues and compliance with previous agreements on overtime expenses are causing the firefighters to operate with 12 employees per shift, according to McKenzie.

“We asked for a guarantee to have a staff of 13 year around,” said McKenzie.

McKenzie said that the IAFF has other demands and that they are safety-related concerns.

“The city will have a long-term anticipated savings. The savings will be in the hundreds of thousands. Adding a thirteenth employee with cost around $40,000 a year,” said McKenzie.

McKenzie said that mediation should begin by mid-September.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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