Kenai teachers unions run the healthcare plan, and want taxpayers to pay for it - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, October 14, 2019
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Kenai teachers unions run the healthcare plan, and want taxpayers to pay for it

By ART CHANCE

I have trouble taking teacher strikes seriously; they’re generally either the result of hysteria or they’re a charade, and sometimes there is some of both.   

You never know what the sentiments of the majority of the employees are; you hear the voices of the loudest malcontents and of the union leadership.   

The “strike vote” is conducted by the union without any outside verification so the union can and does say whatever it wants about the vote.   

In my time in labor relations I never saw a strike vote rejected and mostly the union said the support for the strike was “overwhelming.”  That said, try as we might at times, we never could get one of the State unions to strike in my 20 years of dealing with them.

Teachers, or their union, on the other hand, almost always own their employers, the School Board. The two entities that have no part in teacher negotiations are parents and taxpayers.  

All the school board elections are on an off-the-wall date rather than concurrent with the November General Election date.  Consequently, the only people who vote are “super voters,” school district employees, and people with their hooves in the school district trough.   

In the best of circumstances only a minority of the electorate pays property taxes and other than property taxpayers, nobody much cares what the “free babysitting” costs.

Back in the early 1990s, the Hickel Administration decided to fix the situation with teacher bargaining around the State.   There was a mixed bag of local ordinances either controlling or prohibiting teacher and other school employee bargaining, plus state law that set out the contours and limits of teacher bargaining, but didn’t apply to non-certificated employees of school districts.   

The Hickel Administration moved to put all certificated and non-certificated school employees under the Alaska Public Employment Relations Act (AS 23.40.070 – .260).  Of course, the National Extortion Association (officially known as the National Education Association) was only too happy to help the Legislature with the proposed amendments to PERA. The Administration and the Legislature were stupid enough to listen to the union.

First they stuck in a silly advisory arbitration provision that requires the the selected arbitrator to have local knowledge. It isn’t always honored, but since the union and the school board/management are generally on the same side, it is easy for them to select a favorite who’ll play the game the way they want it played.   

Then, when they assemble their offers to present to arbitration (and there are no rules for just how that is to be done), both the union and the school board put all sorts of “throw-aways” in their offer to make it look like management is doing its job and the union puts in stuff it doesn’t want and knows it won’t get so the arbitrator can make it look like s/he was being even-handed.  

When the opinion comes out, it looks like each party got something and each party didn’t get things it wanted.  

In reality, the union usually gets everything it really wanted and the things the employer got are worthless, meaningless, or both.

Then, more importantly, they put in a provision that says that a teacher strike can only be initiated after school has started.   

There must be one regular day of school before the union can give the required 72-hour notice of a strike, so the kiddies have four days of school, the parents have discontinued their summer childcare arrangements. Then the school takes the babysitters away by closing down because of the strike.

So, that is the environment of teacher strikes.   

We can now turn to the strike by Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers that appears inevitable on Tuesday.   

First, as is usually the case, there is a lot of smoke and noise about money and not much of it is true.  The Kenai school employees haven’t had much in the way of negotiated general increases in the last few years. Few employees in Alaska have, other than some that got in on Gov. Walker’s 11th hour largesse.  

What the teachers and their unions never talk about is the step and column pay schemes that guarantee them a significant raise every year just for continuing to breathe and show up for a step increase, and if they take continuing education classes that everybody passes, they move up the column system and get a raise for taking the class.  

If the Kenai Peninsula School District pay scheme is anything like the State of Alaska’s, the district needs a general personal services budget increase of over 3 percent every year just to maintain status quo and pay for step increases. Kenai is at least that much since they have both step and column increases.

But the real beef is health insurance costs.  

Kenai was already paying very high health insurance costs, some $1,700 and change back a year or so ago, and they had a provision that if the cost of the plan went over that, the increase would be shared equally between the district and the employee.   

Somewhere they changed that to a 70-30 split between the district and employee. The union wants relief from the cost sharing that will cost over $3,000 per employee and the plan cost is around $27,000 per employee per year, or about $2,250/employee/month.   

By way of comparison, the State pays $1,530/employee per month for the very generous General Government Unit plan, a contribution that will rise to $1,570/employee per month in Fiscal Year 2022.

The GGU plan is 80-20, State-employee, with a stop loss that is $3,000-$4,000.  I don’t know the details of the GGU plan, since the union runs it and isn’t very forthcoming about details, but all the other State plans get about the same contribution and all have at least some deductibles and co-pays, so the employee has to reach in their own pocket a bit for most healthcare.   There are some deductibles in the Kenai plan, but nothing particularly substantial even in the so-called “high deductible” plan.

Both the district and the union have made lots of noise about high costs in their service area, but the State plans also cover high cost, some of them very high cost, areas.   

So, here is what I think is the real issue: A union-bought-and-paid-for School Board gave the union/employees control of the plan.  

The plan has an elaborate Benefits Committee that has almost no management representation. That committee has the power to set the benefits and other provisions of the plan.   

In sum, the district has lost all control of health insurance costs because it gave the control away.  The union wants its gold-plated Cadillac plan, doesn’t want to pay anything for it, and wants the Kenai Peninsula’s taxpayers to pick up the tab.

I don’t see any way to get the toothpaste back in the tube.  A legitimate management would just ride out the strike, but there really is no downside for the teachers; Little Johnny is guaranteed his 180 days of “education” so if they strike for a week, a month, or whatever, the days they missed just get tacked on to the school year. The only people who are out anything are the taxpayers and parents who had to disrupt their life because of childcare issues.

Kenai Peninsula School District healthcare costs are obscene.  No sane management would have given away the right to control the plan, but the good people of Kenai elected a Board to run the schools, and now they get to pay for it.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. 

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  • When we get government-controlled Medicare for All (I strongly oppose this, by the way), the public sector unions will no longer strike over health care. They’ll get to enjoy the same government healthcare the rest of us do when the Democrats dismantle private health insurance. After all, “equality for all” really means same “crap for all”. There’s only “equality” when we all suffer equally, public sector unions employees included.

    • S Evans You need to listen to Bernie Sanders more closely. He has said that the unions would be exempt from the Medicare For All policy. So the unions will have their Cadillac healthcare plans and the rest of us will take a number and hope we get some care.

      • Not all of the DSA politicians agree with Bernie’s exemption plan, David Boyle. In a true equality utopia, there are no exemptions. Read some of their national/state level websites.

  • When is the last time you saw a teachers strike over anything but money?

    • Only a few months ago the LAUSD focused their strike around classroom size and supplies. Most teachers are passionate about helping kids, not money. Otherwise they’d have picked one of the many other higher paying professions attainable with similar levels of schooling/training. But they do have families to provide for, which is why they often fight for a fair wage/benefits/retirement (while also moonlighting at second jobs during the school year and/or working over the summers).

      • They may have said it was over class size and supplies, but it was over money and power; it always is. You’re assuming that they could get into “higher paying professions.” An education degree is right in there with a “studies” degree unless the employee has a subject matter degree and the pedagogy on top of it. I’ve lived in Juneau or Anchorage for 45 years and I’ve never met a teacher with a second job. I’ve known some who worked in summer, but three months with nothing to do is a long time. That said, most who did anything took classes so they could make more or had something tourism or fishing related, and if you haven’t noticed commercial fishing isn’t for poor people.

        • Very well said, Art. It is all about money and POWER

    • What else are they going to strike over???? Free lunches????

  • Any clue as to the exact deductibles? And those numbers for the state plans sound far more reasonable. Can the teachers be required switch to the state plan? That might save everyone money.

    There are union people in Soldatna today already demonstrating at Sterling Hiway & the Spur Hiway.

    The thing that upsets taxpayers is when they feel they have to pay for their own medical insurance that may be mediocre then pay for platnum coverage thru taxation they cannot afford themselves. Also, as a taxpayer I appreciate the borough trying to control the budget since we have other costs looming over the horizon as a result of decreased revenue anyway.

    Too bad taxpayers can’t strike!

    Your article, as usual, tells the other side of the story. Thanks Art.

    • There is a listing of some of the deductibles under the old scheme on the SD’s website. They’ve taken a page from the State’s websites and made it really hard to get good information on what they pay. I was in a hurry to get this out so I didn’t dig through all the proposals they’ve exchanged over the last couple of years.

    • There was a bill in the legislature a few sessions ago that would require all school districts to enroll in the state’s plan. The NEA and the Anchorage School District opposed it. The Kenai School District supported the bill as did all the other school districts. The NEA manages the Public Education Health Trust and will not provide any claims history to any school district or to even the state legislature. It gets millions of $$ from the school districts with no accountability for spending of those dollars.

  • Close, Bolt and Lock the doors of this extremely Socialistic Public School System and bring the children home and Home School them. Home School children have a far higher education and accomplished this in only a few hours a day and then have time for other interesting projects. I know, because my children were Home Schooled clear through High School. Also this keeps them away from all the hell raisers. It is a win, win situation. Also there are far more constructive things to learn outside the classroom. Also you would then have the tax money it took to build these way over priced building to use to teach your own children the good things of life and living. Direct Taxes were created to enslave We The People. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

    • See-more, the kids would lack social skills. Some parents aren’t qualified to educate at home. What then join a cult?

      • The research actually shows better socialization for the vast majority of home educated children. The root causes are more time for extracurricular activities and a mix of multi-age socialization options, compared to the homogenous age groups common in school buildings. If you think about it, it makes sense. While some parents are not able to home school, the qualifications are not what you might think. No degree required, says the research, in order to succeed in terms of performance on standardized tests. NHERI.ORG is a great resource for those that want to know.
        We have all seen or heard of the home education disasters. Then again, if you want to talk education disasters, the traditional schools will hold their own. Let’s just say that home school is a viable option for those that can and will, is on the whole no worse and likely better than traditional, and it saves the property tax payers about 50% of the cost per student, on average.

        • How is that when to day is spent studying with siblings rather than learning how to cope with life’s challenges? Many parents aren’t capable of home schooling. If the parents are cult or commune raised….anti government, how does that ready the kids for merging into society?

  • Kenai teachers have a union that supports the NEA and requires membership in both AK NEA and US NEA. NEA demanded Obamacare. Why should we feel sorry for their healthcare going up when they asked for it?

    Their salary under current contract STARTS at $48k for 9 mos when the AVG salary on KP is $47k for a full year?

    Did I hear they want to be treated as professionals? What professionals have a union? What professionals work 9 mos a year? What professionals continually fail their measured outcomes? Only union government employees. Oh my!

    • That “we want to be treated as professionals” is the standard teacher whine. The only thing “professional” means is that you’re accountable only for your work product, not for your work hours and you’re paid a salary rather than an hourly wage. I think the salary minimum these days is $400/wk, or $10/hr. for a 40 hour week, which few teachers in Alaska are required to work.

      While whining that they want to be treated as professionals, they want the same sort of time-keeping and work rules as the custodians have. While insisting that they be considered salaried professionals they either don’t want to do work outside their scheduled day or want to be paid more for any work outside the regular class hours. I was a salaried employee for my entire State career, and I would have loved to have worked only the scheduled 37.5 hour week. The only time in my career I didn’t work 50-60 hours a week was when I was director near the end and then I could make other people work the long hours, and even then I rarely put in only the regular 37.5.

      They whine about the money, but a starting teacher starts at more than the State starts someone with a general college degree and no experience, and the State employee has to work a 1750 hour work year to make it; a teacher is only required to work about 1350 hours/yr. The Kenai entry salary is about $50K or about $37/hr. on the 1350 hour work year. If they had to work a State year at $37/hr. they would make $64, 750/yr. for the standard 37.5 hr. week/1750 hr. year or $76, 960 for a 40 hr. week/2080 hr. year. That puts you at about the same level of pay as the State’s upper level technical and mid-level professionals at about State salary range 18 – 20, jobs which generally take specialized education and six to ten years of specific relevant experience. In sum, if teachers want to make more a year, they need to work more hours a year. Most teachers elect to be paid their salary over 12 months rather than the nine months they actually work. $48K divided by 12 is $4K/mth. or nominally $1K/wk. That’s still pretty good entry-level money, but you’ll wait awhile for a nice house and car. That said, where does it say you get a nice house and car right out of college with no experience?

    • I told former ASD Superintendent Carol Comeau that she should put all employees on Obamacare if she wanted to lower healthcare costs. I got no answer in the public forum from her but loud applause from the taxpayers in the audience.

    • I guess you missed the part for decades now where it was stated that teachers were underpaid. The Noble profession isn’t all most think it is.

      • I didn’t miss the part where teachers said they were underpaid; I just didn’t believe them.

        • Believe me, they are.

          • Two major determinants of compensation are job security and consequence of error. Most Ed Majors who don’t fit in, and that is not a measure of competence but rather collegiality, get weeded out during the try-out period as a teachers’ aide or in the three years before tenure is conferred. Once teachers achieve tenure, job security is almost absolute; it takes sex with a student or blood on the floor to get disciplined or dismissed.

            There is zero consequence of error, if you fit in, if you are accepted by the herd, it really doesn’t matter what your students’ academic performance and test scores are. If they’re bad, the whole education racket just unifies around blaming it on lack of money and poor parental support. It couldn’t possibly be that every damned thing the Ed Schools have pumped out for the better part of a century is simply wrong and that the whole German educational model is simply wrong unless you want mindless automatons to work in your factories.

      • Well.. It is a free country. Move to Vermont or New Jersey if they feel they are “under paid”. Alaska is only spending $17,510 per student. Alaska comes in #6.

        The real issue- I cannot support a group of people who are working to undermine what the United States stands for and it’s values. They want to subtly instill socialism/communism into impressionable kids who are not armed with critical thinking because it’s discouraged. It’s on-par with drug dealers offering free samples to kids. It feels great now, but it comes with a cost later.. Ask Venezuela how their system is working out…

        • I’m not sure that is their agenda. I wish they would teach about 911 and other historical events. but it depends on the district curriculum.

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