After 30 days of negotiations, and six different meetings, Scituate employees and town officials have come to a resolution regarding health care coverage.
The changes to the contract, caused by a recent state amendment allowing municipalities to save money by changing employee health insurance plans, caused quite a bit of controversy, with employees from every aspect of the town coming out of the woodwork to write letters, attend selectmen’s meetings, and protest the potential changes to their coverage.
John Fitzgerald, representing the Scituate Teacher’s Association, made an impassioned plea at the selectmen’s meeting on March 13, saying that everyone from bus drivers to cafeteria workers were impacted by health insurance.
Additionally, several teachers said they would barely be breaking even with their paychecks if their health coverage was significantly reduced.
However after numerous meetings between the town and the Public Employee Committee (consisting of eleven union representatives and one retiree representative) in the past month, the two sides came to unanimous decision on Monday, offering rate saver programs to all subscribers for Harvard Pilgrim, Network Blue, Medex and Blue Care Elect.
“This was the plan desired by the PEC representing all bargaining unit active employees and retirees on the Town’s health insurance,” Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said.
Unlike the old plan, which cost $8.9 million, the new plan will cost $8.6 million. There are no contribution changes in the new plan.
According to Vinchesi, within the three-year agreement, the town will provide 25 percent of the total town’s savings (approximately $178,550) in the first year as mitigation for the changes (or $75,975). The town has also agreed to provide an additional $37,500 in mitigation for year two.
Despite mitigation costs, over three years, the town will save $422,176.
“All members worked hard, and negotiations were conducted with respect and professionalism,” Vinchesi said. “This isn’t an agreement that makes everyone happy, but it benefits both sides. It represents some concerns communicated by employees of what they wanted to see for healthcare and what the town is seeking to do to look at rising health care costs.”
The new plan will affect over 600 eligible union members in the town, including the Teacher’s Association, Firefighter’s Union, Laborer’s District, cafeteria workers, school secretaries, and school aids, as well as hundreds of non union employees that subscribe to the town’s health insurance.
“I want to drive home that this is not a small thing. This is a town wide, school wide agreement and is a strong, positive step forward … at the end of the day…it’s an excellent outcome,” selectmen Rick Murray said.
It was a difficult conversation for the town, selectman Shawn Harris said, and one that kept him up at night.
“There hasn’t been a more sensitive issue,” he said. “We put a lot of effort into it and tried to do the best for everybody.”
Although selectmen, with the exception of the recused John Danehey, were pleased with the outcome, some union members commented that it wasn’t the best end result.
“What we voted on was better than the town’s initial proposal,” said Barry Shea with the firefighter’s union. “[But] it’s difficult to explain to members how health care was once a benefit and now it will hinder them financially.”
However Fitzgerald said the plan reflected the art of compromise.
"The plan that was negotiated is basically the middle of the road option between what we have now and the benchmark plans that were proposed by the town. I believe that the PEC (Public Employee Committee) was genuinely seeking a compromise on the issue of health care, and I believe that the outcome of the negotiations indicates that," he said. "The teachers of the town were very pleased to work in unison with the other town unions in order to negotiate a fair settlement. In addition, the PEC representatives should be commended for their tireless efforts and poise during a very stressful time."
Regardless of any upset the compromise has brought, Selectman Jo Norton reiterated that it was a national issue, and that the town did what it could to be fair.
“Both sides came a long way, made some concessions. But its not a town of Scituate, Cohasset issue. It’s a national healthcare problem, and it has to be solved,” Norton said.