by Cheryl Kahn
Appeared Sunday, July 20, 2014 8:00 am in Sentinel Source
As a retired employee of the Monadnock Regional School District and former president of the Monadnock District Education Association (MDEA), I have been reading the articles about the union’s health insurance fund with great interest. I was involved with all teacher contract negotiations since the mid 1990s, including the current contract.
The current insurance fund concept was proposed by the school board, not the teachers.
We were happy to continue negotiating what percentage of premiums would be paid by the employees and by the district. This meant that if the insurance company raised premium rates, both the employees and the district paid more. The school board, however, wanted to set a fixed cost for health insurance each year. Therefore, it proposed the concept of a health insurance fund.
The current contract states how much money is allotted for the fund and how much the fund will increase each year. Article 9.1 states, “The District will budget $2,300,000 for the first year of this agreement for health insurance. The MDEA (union) is responsible for selecting the insurance plans and determining the amount of contribution for each eligible employee…”
The next paragraph states, “If the total number of eligible employed members exceeds 186 in any year, the District will pay the district’s portion of the plan selected by the employee based on the MDEA formula.”
Nowhere does it mention what happens if the number of employees decreases, only if the number increases.
In the fifth paragraph, it states, “Any amount of money in the healthcare budget not expended from the MRSD’s contribution to annual healthcare premiums and buyout payments will be placed in a pool to offset healthcare coverage for employees electing plans that exceed the District’s allotment per employee. Monies will be distributed equally among all employees in each plan classification to offset premium costs, as determined by the MDEA. In no case will an employee receive more money than the cost of an annual plan premium.”
It is my understanding that there was a small surplus last year, and the district rolled it over into the next year’s fund.
The next paragraph states, “The District agrees to fund the health care budget amount by the lesser of the insurance provider’s average ‘guaranteed maximum rate’ or 5 percent for each additional year of the agreement.”
Again, no mention of decreasing the dollar amount if the number of teachers goes down or for any reason.
As you can see, the district set the dollar amount, agreed to increase it if the number of employees exceeded 186 in any one year, agreed to return the surplus to the teachers and agreed to increase the dollar amount each year. If the board members are now unhappy with the contract language, perhaps they didn’t spend enough time thinking through the impact of their proposal if staffing decreased significantly during the term of the contract.
A few years ago, there was a misprint in the contract. When the union discovered it, it asked the district to correct it. Article 3.8.2 states, “The parties may, by mutual agreement, consider language changes to the agreement in the off years of the contract on non-money issues and is limited to two items per year.”
The school board refused, saying in so many words that the union should have proofread the agreement before signing it. If we wanted it changed, we needed to wait until the next negotiation.
Now they are saying they made a “mistake” when they negotiated the insurance article and should not have to honor what they proposed. But by law, they are bound by the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement they ratified and the voters approved.
Negotiations are difficult, and both sides may realize later on that what they agreed to doesn’t work as well as they had expected. But that doesn’t give either side the right to unilaterally change the agreement to their liking. It is a mutually agreed upon document and needs to be followed unless both sides agree to renegotiate.
The Monadnock District Education Association contract is publicly available to view on the Monadnock Regional School District website and the N.H. Public Employee Labor Relations Board website.