AP to Guild: You pay all of health care increase

NEW YORK — The Associated Press told the News Media Guild on Friday that it will not pay any of an estimated $1 million in increased health care costs and that Guild-covered staff must pay the full cost of projected increases.

“Nobody’s disputing the company can pay more, but the company doesn’t want to,” said Sue Gilkey, global director of AP employee benefits.

The Guild has proposed employees pay 5 percent of premium costs. The Guild has already accepted many methods to save the company money, including a reduced sick leave policy, mandatory generic drugs and other cost containments.

“Our members are being called on to do more and more, and to significantly enhance their skills,” said NMG President Tony Winton. “It seems a small price to pay for AP to recognize and respect those efforts by absorbing the costs,” he said.

In meetings with the Guild’s health care consultant, the AP said about 95 percent of editorial and technology unit participants are in the premium plan, the most expensive plan that the AP offers with the highest level of benefits. It offers lower deductibles and co-payments.

If an employee wants to participate in the premium plan, he or she will have to pay a lot more, Gilkey said.  She said the company wants to get staffers accustomed to lower-level health plans because AP’s premium plan is expected to become a so-called “Cadillac plan” under the new health care law in future years – meaning that employees would be required to pay taxes on a portion of the benefits.

The AP proposed adding a third-tier, less expensive plan with higher co-pays and deductibles. Gilkey said earlier that during a planned open enrollment next year, staffers in the premium plan would be pushed into the core plan. They would have to choose to return to the premium plan.

The medical benefits of the three plans are the same. It’s the financial terms that differ. Details are here:

The proposed Technology Unit premium hikes are draconian,  increasing by up to 148 percent. Winton said, “That’s ugly and AP can do much better.”

The Guild was represented by Winton, consultant Allen Brawer, NMG administrator Kevin Keane, negotiating committee members Martha Waggoner, John Braunreiter, Don Ryan, and Vin Cherwoo.

The AP was represented by Gilkey, Michelle Ehrlich, director of global labor relations,  Carole Feldman, director of newsroom convergence, and attorney Steve Macri.

Talks will resume next week.