H.81 AN ACT RELATING TO STATEWIDE PUBLIC SCHOOL EMPLOYEE HEALTH BENEFITS
in the State Senate
on March 26, 2021, by a vote of
Purpose: The purpose of this bill is to create a separate bargaining process for lower income school workers. This would allow them to highlight economic difficulties and increase the likelihood that they could negotiate for greater benefits.
Analysis: In 2018, the Legislature passed Act 11, prioritizing adequately funding Vermont’s Education Fund while supporting a union bargaining process which negotiated health benefits for all public school workers as a group, which is called “uniform cost sharing.” H.81 would segment public school workers into different groups that local school systems must negotiate with.
Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office notes that negotiations for benefits would increase in complexity and cost. Different groups could negotiate for different monthly premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. If during negotiations, “the premium share for all participating employees shifted down 1%, employees would pay $3.1 million less and employers (the state/taxpayers) would pay $3.1 million more.”
State spending on negotiated benefits is expected to increase each year since “the smaller the premium contributions or out-of-pocket cost, the more health care people use. Conversely, the more a consumer has to pay for services, the more likely they are to ask questions and avoid excessive health care services.” Currently, the average public school health “plan plus HRA (Health Reimbursement Arrangement) cover all but 2.5% of medical and pharmaceutical costs for covered benefits, on average… in contrast, Gold plans on Vermont Health Connect pay (just) 80% of the cost of covered benefits on average.”
Vermont would also appropriate an extra $35,000 to members of the Commission on Public School Employee Health Benefits to negotiate in 2022.
Those voting YES want to give paraeducators, cafeteria workers, school custodians and other lower-paid school staff a seat at the bargaining table. “Almost 40 percent” of paraeducators are the primary income earners for their household, making only about $22,000 a year. Many of these workers see the health insurance as the primary reason they took a low-paying job. By changing the current bargaining process, the “lowest paid school support staff can include their economic situation” in the conversation, which will likely ensure they get greater benefits.
Those voting NO believe H.81 will have “significant (negative) financial implications for Vermont taxpayers.” If uniform cost sharing is removed from bargaining, Vermont cannot “comply with the provision in Act 11 to safeguard the financial ability of the education fund and our local school districts across the state.” Bargaining will take more time, and thus more money for publicly financed negotiations. If the arbitrator gives low-income public school workers inexpensive monthly premiums and smaller out-of-pocket contributions during bargaining, taxpayers will be expected to “make up the difference,” since “higher paid employees administrators do not offset the cost.” Taxpayers in some school districts may pay more than others, worsening “inequity issues for our students and our taxpayers.”
As Recorded in the House Journal, Friday, March 26, 2021: “An act relating to statewide public school employee health benefits. Was read the third time and passed on a roll call, Yeas 22, Nays 5.” Read the Journal, p. 410.
Vermont Joint Fiscal Office’s Fiscal Note.
Vermont Joint Fiscal Office’s Letter to the Senate.
Watch the floor debate on YouTube. Watch the committee discussion on Youtube.
How They Voted
Becca Balint (D-Windham) – YES
Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden) – YES
Joseph Benning (R-Caledonia) – NO
Christopher Bray (D-Addison) – ABSENT
Randy Brock (R-Franklin) – NO
Brian Campion (D-Bennington) – YES
Thomas Chittenden (D-Chittenden) – YES
Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) – YES
Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) – NO
Ann Cummings (D-Washington) – YES
Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) – YES
Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland) – YES
Russ Ingalls (R-Essex-Orleans) – NO
M. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) – YES
Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden) – YES
Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) – YES
Richard Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle) – YES
Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) – YES
Alice Nitka (D-Windsor District) – YES
Corey Parent (R-Franklin) – NO
Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) – YES
Andrew Perchlik (D-Washington) – YES
Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) – YES
Kesha Ram (D-Chittenden) – YES
Richard Sears (D-Bennington) – YES
Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) – YES
Robert Starr (D-Essex-Orleans) – YES
Joshua Terenzini (R-Rutland) – ABSENT
Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) – YES
Jeanette White (D-Windham) – YES
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