Guild makes health insurance proposal, fights firings of 2 staffers

The News Media Guild today proposed a health insurance plan that includes higher premiums and deductibles but does not include a high-deductible plan or coinsurance.

The Guild’s health insurance proposal would save the company $1 million in the first year, which would keep the company’s costs flat. It includes a 25 percent increase in the premium plan the first year and 8 percent, which is about market trend, for 2014-15. The Guild proposed the 25 percent increase to give employees a clear choice between a better premium plan or a less expensive basic plan rather than having almost no cost difference.

To see proposal, click here.

The Guild’s proposal includes the same increases for the technology unit, but based on its rates, which a health and welfare fund has subsidized for years. That fund is running out of money, and the Guild wants to raise the TU rates more slowly.

The proposal includes higher deductibles of $500 for a single and $1,000 for a family, compared to the current $150 and $300. Those higher rates could be offset by a Health Reimbursement Account, into which the AP would pay $250 for a single if the staffer participates in a wellness program and $500 if the staffer and AP-insured spouse/domestic partner participates.

The Guild also proposes that the AP pay $1,000 a year to any staffer whose spouse or domestic partner is not on the AP insurance plan. The AP wants to remove all spouses or domestic partners from AP insurance if they had insurance available elsewhere.

The union said AP doesn’t know if the working spouse coverage would be affordable or adequate. It also said that evidence shows companies get better results with a wellness plan that provides incentives, not punishment.

The AP pointed out that it wants to save $1.7 million in the first year, not the $1 million the Guild proposed. The Guild’s health care consultant agreed, saying the NMG proposal shifts fewer costs to the union staffers. For the first time at the table, the AP used the phrase “cost shifting,” agreeing its proposal shifts cost to the NMG staff, along with savings in its wellness program, which the Guild said was a punitive approach.

The Guild proposed a framework for a wellness program that includes incentives, not punishments, for participation in activities including a biometric screening and working with a health coach. The Guild also proposed that staffers be able to earn incentives if they participate in smoking cessation, bicycle to work or go to nutrition counseling.

The Guild pointed out that AP jobs are especially stressful and that staffers should be rewarded for participating in activities that lower their stress. The AP said the most stressful part about being a manager is making sure the AP is “a financially viable company.” The Guild replied that it shares the concern about the company’s viability, but it is very concerned about AP’s employees ability to pay bills.

The AP and the Guild also met Monday, when the talks were off the record about Invision, the entertainment photography company in which AP is a majority owner. The Guild presented the AP with a petition from the Phoenix bureau and West desk expressing those staffers’ unhappiness with the AP’s contract proposal.

It’s not clear when negotiations will resume, but it won’t be before Nov. 11 because the Guild bargaining team has other duties over the next two weeks.

Also, the Associated Press declined to meet Wednesday with the Guild to discuss AP’s refusal to issue dismissal pay to Norm Gomlak and Bob Lewis, the two staffers who were fired for their involvement in a story that resulted in a kill. The Guild typically wouldn’t name the staffers; however, they’ve issued their own statements so their firings are public.

The contract says the company may refuse dismissal pay for a limited number of reasons: proven financial dishonesty, gross insubordination, gross neglect of duty or gross misconduct or where discharge is provoked for collecting dismissal pay. AP has not to date specified the reason for the denial of dismissal pay saying only they are not eligible for it.

“AP’s refusal to meet with the Guild is an embarrassment to a company that demands openness from others but won’t abide by those principles for its internal business,” Guild President Martha Waggoner said.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s governor, lieutenant governor and two U.S. senators are hosting a gathering Nov. 18 to honor Bob Lewis and Dena Potter, the manager who was fired for her involvement in the story. She worked on the story briefly, at the end of 15-hour work day, because she was handling a story about a shooting at a federal courthouse in West Virginia.

Representing the Guild, in addition to Waggoner, were Kevin Keane, Don Ryan and John Braunreiter, along with health care consultants Sam Camens and Miriam Senftt.

Representing the AP were Steve Macri, Sally Buzbee, Sue Gilkey,  Jean Maye, Alison Quan, Hilda Auguste and health care consultant Tom O’Hara.