Teachers' Association should reconsider unfair labor practices claim

Jeff vonKaenel

I like teachers. While many people say they like teachers, I take it a step further. I’m willing to have my taxes raised so that more money can go for teachers’ salaries and for better school programs. I am ashamed that California’s per-student expenditure is around 25 percent less than the national average.

I’m in favor of raising taxes to support teachers. But I cannot support the Sacramento City Teachers Association filing an unfair-labor-practices claim against the Sacramento City Unified School District for changing their health-insurance carrier.

The union says the school district’s unilateral decision to switch health-care providers breaches its contract. The district says it will save between $6 million to $8 million a year by having employees switch from HealthNet to a comparable plan at either Western Health Advantage or Sutter.

According to Sacramento City Unified School District Chief Communication Officer Gabe Ross, “The renewal rate for a family plan with HealthNet would have been $2,234 per month per employee. The average family plan rate for either Western Health Advantage or Sutter Plus is $1,810 per month per employee. That’s a $500-per-month difference. Employees on the Kaiser Plan would not be impacted by the change.”

The district says these alternate plans would have provided the same coverage. I asked Sacramento City Teachers’ Association President Nikki Milevsky how the members would be impacted. She said that some people would “have to change their health-care providers, get new referrals, things like that. Those who are out of the area or have dependents out of the area are facing situations where [they] will not have coverage except for emergencies.”

Ross says this is not true. He claims that “nobody will lose coverage.” He says that out-of-the-area dependents will continue to be covered as before.

I pointed out to Milevsky that in the private sector, companies change providers all the time to save money without cutting benefits. She did not seem to care. In her mind, this was a contract violation, and it did not matter how much the district could save.

Frankly, I do not understand this position. If the district overpays for insurance, then there is less money for wages and benefits. According to Ross, just under 90 percent of the district’s unrestricted general fund goes to salary and benefits.

The union should be supportive of the district’s efforts to lower health-insurance costs so that more money could go to improve wages and benefits or to enhance other programs. I doubt that many individuals would be willing to pay an additional $6,000 a year out of their own pocket to keep HealthNet over Sutter or Western Health. Nor should the district.

The union’s “us against the world” mentality is ridiculous and counterproductive. The union should support the district’s efforts, rather than filing lawsuits.

I support teachers. I want to increase school funding. But I can’t support wasting taxpayers’ money.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.