County workers to pay more for health premiums

  • Damita Davis-Howard, President of SEIU out of the Oakland office, excoriates the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for their negotiating tactics during the public session Tuesday afternoon in Santa Rosa.

Sonoma County?s Board of Supervisors moved Tuesday to shift a greater share of medical premiums onto 2,700 public employees after five months of failed talks with the union representing the workers.

The unilateral action converts the county?s share of health care premiums for employees to a $500 monthly contribution, eliminating the current payment that is equal to 85 percent of the employee?s health plan choice.

Officials with the union representing those workers, the Service Employees International Union, had countered with a proposal calling for employees to pay set amounts for medical premiums based on whether they insure dependents.

But the supervisors were unanimous Tuesday in contending that the county plan makes more headway in addressing rising health care costs.

?The fact of the matter is the dollars aren?t there to do what we?ve done in the past. I think we?re all trying to do the best we can,? said Supervisor Tim Smith.

County employees were angered by the board?s action. More than 70 turned out at the supervisors? meeting, wearing purple SEIU T-shirts and toting picket signs criticizing the board as unfair and heavy-handed.

?That?s what we?re fighting for, the fairness in the allocation of resources. You?re hurting families,? said Chip Atkin, a county human services worker.

County officials said there is a $14million annual gap in covering ongoing costs of worker and retiree medical benefits, and if left to accumulate it could lead the county to eliminate the benefit.

The supervisors acknowledged the rancorous negotiations with SEIU, but they backed county administrators on the plan that is similar to those placed on the county?s 2,400 retirees and 650 nonunion workers.

?Sometimes we have to make very difficult decisions, and this was one,? said Supervisor Mike Kerns.

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