By Jim Schroeder
Two department heads expressed regret Wednesday at the disparity between the share of insurance costs paid by Havre's union and nonunion employees with dependents.
Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard and Police Chief Kevin Olson told the city's Labor and Negotiations committee they were surprised the city is willing to pay a larger chunk of the union employees' insurance premiums than it does for nonunion employees. Both Sheppard and Olson are nonunion city employees and they agreed at the meeting that insurance premium costs for nonunion employees should be equal to the costs that union employees pay.
Insurance premiums increased 25 percent for city departments this year.
The city pays the total cost of insurance for single coverage for all employees, but pays only a portion for coverage of workers and their wives or workers and their families for nonunion members. Proposed agreements with union members of the police department would pick up all of the increase, and the contract with the firefighter's union would pick up more of the increase than it does for nonunion workers.
The city's Labor and Negotiations committee said that while it picked up more of the increase for union members, it just couldn't stretch this year's budget for the nonunion employees of the city's departments.
"We got caught this year; we made mistakes," committee member Jack Brandon said.
"It's something that came on quick," committee chairman Tom Farnham said.
Nonunion employees in the city departments, who do not work under contract, received a 3 percent raise for 2003-04 and have to pay half of the 25 percent premium increase. The city pays the other half. The city budget was finalized on Aug. 19. Farnham said today that the city shifted money in its budget planning in July to pay for half of the premium increase for nonunion workers.
Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson told the committee his only problem with the tentative agreement between the City of Havre and the police union is the insurance premium disparity. He said the city would pay the entire premium increase for officers who are members of the Montana Public Employees Association but nonunion employees must pay half of it.
Olson told the committee that under the agreement a lieutenant in the union could make more than a nonunion captain. In a family policy, covering more than two people, a nonunion police officer's share of the $643.47 monthly premium will jump from $150 to $214.37. A union member will continue to pay $150.
The MPEA reached the tentative agreement with the labor and negotiations committee on Aug. 28 for a two-year contract with a 3.5 percent raise the first year and 3 percent raise the second year. The city also agreed to cover the entire cost of the insurance increase for MPEA members. The contract still has to be approved by the Havre City Council, and the insurance portion of the agreement is up for renegotiation next year.
Havre fire chief Dave Sheppard also told the committee that there has to be a drop in insurance premium costs for the city's nonunion employees.
"To lay it on the table for you, I'm making $50 more while firefighters make $166 more," Sheppard said. "I just wanted to bring that to light."
The Local 601 of the International Association of Firefighters approved a one-year contract Aug. 28 and the City Council approved it on Sept. 3.
The members of the Local 601 received a 4 percent increase in wages. The city will pick up 52 percent of the premium increase for a health insurance policy covering two people, about $97, and the firefighters pick up 48 percent. The premium jumped from $390 to $488 for a two-person policy.
Firefighters with more than two people on their policy benefited more from the contract. Union firefighters pay 33.2 percent of the $128 monthly premium increase for a family policy, with more than two people covered, and the city pays 66.7 percent of the increase. The premium rose from $515 a month to about $643.
All single health insurance for nonunion and union employees of the city are completely covered by the city. Last fiscal year, the city paid the entire $195 a month for a city employee with single health insurance and is currently paying the entire $243 bill for all city department employees with single health insurance.
Nonunion employees are obligated to pay half of the increase in either a two-party or family policy.
Havre finance director Lowell Swenson illustrated the effects of the premium increases for both union and nonunion employees. Last fiscal year, the city paid $285 a month and a union firefighter paid $105 a month for a two-party health insurance policy. This year, the city pays $335 a month and the firefighter pays $152 for the policy.
Last year, a nonunion city employee paid $105 a month while the city paid $285 a month for a two-party insurance policy. This year the city pays $333 a month and a nonunion employee with two-party insurance will pay $153 for the insurance policy.
The rates jumped $47 for a union firefighter, and $48 for a nonunion firefighter.
A union firefighter paid $150 for family health insurance last year and the city paid $365 a month. Now a union firefighter pays $192 a month and the city pays $451 a month for family health insurance.
Nonunion city employees paid $150 a month for family health insurance last year and the city paid $365 a month for a family health insurance policy. Now a nonunion city employee pays $214 a month and the city pays $429 a month for an employee's monthly premium costs.
The family rates jumped $42 for a union firefighter, and $64 for a nonunion firefighter.