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T i m e s

February 4, 2003

February Meeting Schedule

Feb.  4TEA Business Meeting (King St. Center, 5F), 12-1 pm
Feb.  6(Transit) Contract Mediation Session, 9-4pm
Feb.  7(Transit) Contract Mediation Session, 9-4pm
Feb. 10Contract Negotiating Team, 12-1pm
Feb. 11TEA Business Meeting (King St. Center, 5F), 12-1pm
Feb. 12Council of Reps. Meeting (Elliott Bay Bookstore Café), 12-1pm
Feb. 18TEA Business Meeting (King St. Center, 5F), 12-1pm
Feb. 19(Transit) Contract Mediation Session, 9-4pm
Feb. 19TEA Monthly Meeting, 12-1pm, Elliott Bay Bookstore Café
Feb. 24Contract Negotiating Team, 12-1pm
Feb. 25TEA Business Meeting (King St. Center, 5F), 12-1pm

Medical Insurance

TEA members in the Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) have recently received several emails from King County Benefits - some containing factual errors and misrepresenting TEA's position.  For the record, TEA has not agreed to accept the Medical Benefit Insurance Plan changes for 2003.  The following was sent to KC Benefits to highlight the issue:

   From:  Madden, Ken
   Sent:  Monday, February 3, 2003 10:57 AM
     To:  Benefits, KC
     Cc:  Constantine, Dow; Pullen, Kent; Sullivan, Cynthia;
          Gossett, Larry; Hague, Jane; Alvine, Michael;
          Oglesby, Kathleen; Bissonnette, Pam; Theiler, Donald;
          Ohashi, Gail; Weigelt, Ron; 'Jim Cline'

Subject:  RE: TEA Special Open Enrollment

I am the president of TEA.  Your email to my members on Friday, 1/31, at 4:47pm contains statements of factual error.
The email, which was sent to TEA members in the Wastewater Treatment Division of DNRP by King County Benefits, is false and has caused substantial harm to my bargaining unit. TEA has made no agreement (to date) to accept the medical benefit plan negotiated by the JLMIC.  Medical benefits are mandatory subjects of bargaining and TEA looks forward to continued negotiations on these subjects in the proper venue.
This action by OHRM is a clear example of their disregard of the bargaining process.  Unilateral implementation of working conditions and communicating false information to TEA members at critical stages of contract negotiations only causes irreparable harm to the process itself.  I suggest that you correct these missteps.  

Late yesterday, KC Benefits responded with a retraction:

"On Friday, January 31, King County Benefits sent an email to all Wastewater Technical Employees Association members containing open enrollment materials. Unfortunately the message did not accurately portray the status of your benefits negotiations. We would like to extend our apologies to you for misstating the facts surrounding implementation of the King County benefit plan."

TEA will continue to work with King County to negotiate a fair and reasonable contract, including Medical Benefit provisions that are equitable.  If the County continues to unilaterally impose new working conditions on TEA members, TEA will be forced to exercise every available legal remedy.  

In the short term, TEA members in WTD are advised to comply with King County's request for Open Enrollment.  You should track all impacts on your family's medical benefits, both monetary and non-monetary, for use in our legal action.

In addition, if you feel personally harmed or offended by King County's action, it is your right to speak out and let your supervisor, manager and elected officials know how you feel.  King County is threatening to violate our basic right to fair representation and denying us the right to negotiate our working conditions.  Here are some observations from your co-workers:

Talking Points on Imposing Health Benefits Package

It is unfair for King County to impose this part of the contract because:

  • TEA members just completed open enrollment for 2003 health benefits in November 2002 and made significant financial decisions affecting their families for 2003
  • As part of open enrollment, TEA members made Flexible Spending Account (FSA) decisions in 2002 for the 2003 year
  • TEA members have already paid medical care deductibles to existing health care providers
  • TEA has been denied the opportunity to participate in the joint process to craft a benefits package that other labor organizations were a part of, yet we will have to live with the results for many years
  • The County appears to be "cherry picking" one part of the contract important to them and imposing it; this sets a precedent no other labor group has had to live with
  • It is unilaterally imposing one piece of a contract when it should be bargained in good faith in the context of an entire labor agreement
  • TEA members have not had adequate time or notice to make important family decisions about changing medical care
  • The latest contract offer from the County allows the benefit package to change at any time at its whim (even several times a year)
  • The ten-day enrollment "window" was just announced and will be over before some members who are on vacation can even respond
  • Members have been expecting to review their enrollment options once a contract has been voted on and have not had adequate time to make this important decision in the short window offered

Recent History on Medical Insurance

During contract negotiations in mid-2002, King County said that they had developed a new medical benefit plan for 2003 and asked TEA to accept the new plan since it would save the County money.  TEA worked with the County to explore negotiated settlement options during both the Transit and Wastewater negotiations.  King County's proposals consistently fell short of 'fair and reasonable' offers according to TEA negotiating team representatives.

Eventually, King County's negotiator did threatened to impose the medical benefit plan changes on TEA members without any further negotiation.  However, TEA's attorney reminded the County negotiator that Medical Benefits are working conditions that are 'mandatory subjects of bargaining' and TEA could file an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaint.  After this, the County began to soften their tone on implementation.  As late as October 10, 2002, Kerry Schaefer (Benefits Manager) made a presentation to the negotiating team and indicated that King County had already negotiated an extension of medical contracts for TEA members with the existing insurance companies and that TEA members would have their own Open Enrollment process in November.

TEA completed Open Enrollment in the Fall to maintain our existing care providers as King County indicated.   On December 5, 2002, King County's negotiator presented a "last, best and final" offer to the WTD negotiating team; the proposed language covering medical benefits would allow the County to change WTD members health care at any time the County chooses.  On December 18, 2002, TEA filed for Mediation with the State.  The State agency PERC has assigned a mediator.  On January 9, 2003, King County sent TEA a letter agreeing to mediate the remaining contract provisions, but indicated their plan to Unilaterally Implement the new medical benefit plan.  For WTD members, this means another Open Enrollment process, fewer providers, increased co-pays and deductibles.

On January 24, 2003, Kerry Schaefer with KC Benefits sent WTD members an email describing the schedule for an abbreviated on-line Open Enrollment process.  On Friday, January 24, 2003 at 4:47pm, KC Benefits sent an email to WTD members stating that TEA had accepted the new benefit plan [false].  On Monday, February 3rd, King County issues a retraction and apology for misstating the facts.