Negotiations Update Spring 2015
by Warren Ruud, Regular Faculty Member in the Mathematics Department, AFA Chief Negotiator
As this semester winds down, the endgame in this year's negotiations with the District has begun. A flurry of data comes in at this time of year—projected revenue reports from the State, rate increases from our benefits providers, compliance issues from the Chancellor's Office, mandates from ACCJC (the accrediting agency), and on and on. AFA and the District have doubled up on their weekly meeting times since spring break, attempting to complete this year's agenda of negotiation items in time for next week's AFA General Membership Meeting.
2015-16 State Revenues and SRJC: More Good News!
In February's Negotiation Update1, we reported that "budget-wise, the 2015-16 academic year will be the rosiest in a long time." The Governor's January budget proposal predicted an increase of $1.6 billion in 2014-15 State revenues over 2013-14 revenues and as a result, SRJC would see an additional $11 million in State funding for 2015-16.
But wait, it gets even better! Last month, the State Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) updated its projections of 2015-16 revenues, and State revenues now are predicted to grow by another $4.0 billion over those January projections. Nearly all of this new revenue would be applied to K-14 because of the Proposition 98 mechanisms currently in play, so SRJC would most likely realize its own unforeseen funding increase, which would be significantly beyond the $11 million increase already in the Governor's January proposal for 2015-16. Rosy indeed!
The Governor will revise his January budget proposal for 2015-16 later this month with this new State revenue in consideration, and the Legislature will most likely enact a budget early in June. Whether SRJC's unforeseen funding increase would trigger a readjustment of the currently projected 2015-16 SRJC faculty salary schedules2 (as determined by the AFA/District Contract §26.02) depends on whether any of this increase is passed along by the State in the form of increased COLA for 2015-16. (Of course, all faculty salaries are subject to negotiation and approval by the District and by the AFA membership.)
Medical Benefits: Moving Toward Sustainability
Maintaining and funding faculty medical benefits plans has become a significant problem for all public employers, and SRJC is no exception. Over the last two decades, SRJC employee medical benefits premium costs have been increasing at a far faster rate than has SRJC's funding from the State. Since 2001, medical benefits premium rates have grown by more than 98 percent, but State funding through COLA has grown by less than 19 percent. Table 1 illustrates how the gap between SRJC's initially budgeted revenues and premium rates has grown over this period.
For the first eight years, the gap was covered in part by annual concessions in salaries and sabbatical leaves. In 2008, the District and AFA agreed to faculty out-of-pocket premium cost-sharing, and AFA negotiated the funding of the AFA Health and Welfare Benefits Account (AHWBA) to provide a "rainy day" fund for premium increases. This year, the balance of AHWBA has been expended, and now other provisions must be enacted to mitigate faculty's share of the roughly $6 million gap between budgeted revenues for SRJC employee medical benefits and the actual premium expenditures.
AFA has been working with the District in developing a long-term, sustainable plan to help the District finance faculty medical benefits. Below are the elements of this plan.
- Cost Accountability and Containment. In 2014, SEIU and AFA partnered in advocating for transparency and accountability in annual premium rate increases from the benefit plan providers. Has this advocacy helped? The aggregate increase announced by the benefit plan providers for 2015-16 is 1.9%, which is the lowest in more than two decades, and less than the percentage increase in projected State revenues for 2015-16.
- Access to a fully funded medical benefits plan. Presently the District-provided HMO and the PPO plans require a three percent out-of-pocket premium cost-sharing from the contract faculty plan enrollee. AFA is proposing that one plan, the current District-provided HMO, be available to contract faculty with no out-of-pocket premium cost-sharing.
- PPO Premium Funding. Over the years, the District-provided PPO plan premiums have increased faster than the District-provided HMO plan. Presently, the cost of the PPO is 30 percent greater than the HMO plan by tier (single, double, or family). In total, this additional cost is $1 million annually to the District. The District and AFA are negotiating provisions in which the PPO out-of-pocket premium cost-sharing would be incrementally increased over a three-year period to cover this difference in costs for the PPO over the HMO. As a result, the monthly out-of-pocket expense for contract PPO enrollees would increase significantly.
- Increasing Faculty Plan Choices. The District and AFA have agreed to consider the addition of Kaiser and Blue Shield Account-Based Health Plans (ABHP). These plans allow the employee to engage in medical cost containment and to benefit financially from these savings through Health Savings Accounts (HSA). The ABHP plans are not for everyone, but they will offer a financially prudent alternative to the District-provided PPO plan for many faculty members.
- Preserving Access for Adjunct Faculty. The current provisions of the Adjunct Medical Benefits Plan will continue under this plan.
These adjustments to the medical benefits plans will be outlined at the AFA General Meeting on May 13 and presented in faculty forums this fall. Any revision of the existing medical benefits plans would not occur before January 1, 2016.
Also on the Negotiations Table This Year . . .
- Hourly Assignments (Article 16). AFA has negotiated the final draft of this major article revision this week after two years of discussions with the District and a number of open forums with SRJC faculty. A task force team of contract and adjunct faculty, chaired by AFA President Julie Thompson, has worked with the District on this revision. (See 150505_article16.htm in this update.)
- Compensation for Additional Evaluations. Over the past five years, the workload for performing evaluations has greatly increased for faculty, and AFA has advocated for compensating faculty for this increased evaluations workload. This matter has been on the table for a while, and AFA is looking forward to resolving it for this year's tentative agreement.
- Compensation for Adjunct Faculty performing SLO Assessments. AFA has negotiated provisions and rates for compensating adjunct faculty who participate in SLO assessments.
- Due Process (Article 23). The negotiation of faculty due-process rights has proceeded at a glacial pace for nearly three years now, but recent District alacrity in these discussions has raised some optimism in the AFA team that an agreement may be possible this year or next fall.
- Lab Equity Compensation. Last year, AFA negotiated higher compensation tiers for those credit lab assignments with significant assessment and preparation. The May 2014 tentative agreement established a joint Academic Senate/District committee with the charge of determining which courses would qualify for the higher tiers. AFA had hoped to implement these tiers in 2015-16, but now AFA is hopeful the committee will wrap up its work and deliver its report next fall so that these tiers might be implemented in 2016-17.
- Professional Growth Increments (Article 21). AFA and the District are working on a revision of the current PGI article that will make the process more transparent, objective, and equitable. The AFA team is hopeful these discussions will be concluded soon.
- Faculty Load Banking. AFA and the District are working on a proposal for the tentative agreement that would establish load-banking rights for full-time faculty in 2015-16.
- Salary Placement (Article 27). AFA and the District are discussing follow-up provisions for the major revision of the article in the 2014 tentative agreement, which was approved by the AFA membership and the Board of Trustees.
Feel free to contact the AFA office or email me directly (email@example.com) if you have comments or questions on negotiation issues. See you at the General Meeting on May 13!
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