TRUMBULL COUNTY Tech center, union continue contract talks
Health benefits and wages are the sticking points, the board leader said.
By AMANDA C. DAVIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
CHAMPION -- Negotiations are moving slowly between Trumbull Career and Technical Center and its sole employee union.
A mediator was called in earlier in the fall to help the two sides, which have been negotiating since spring.
All TCTC employees, with the exception of adult education instructors and secretaries, are represented by Trumbull County Joint Vocational Education Association.
The contract expired June 30.
Union members gathered at TCTC's board meeting earlier this week, making it known they want to reach an agreement.
Board President Roger Samuelson said sticking points are health benefits and wages.
Insurance dilemma: In the last year, the vocational school's claims for health insurance have far exceeded the amount it's paid in premiums, Samuelson said, explaining that many public agencies and school districts are facing the same dilemma.
"The costs are spiraling so quickly," he said, adding that claims for catastrophic illnesses and injury are unfortunately on the rise.
TCTC Treasurer Gary Ghizzoni said 15 or 16 Trumbull County school districts are in the same insurance consortium, which last year was with United Health Care.
The company raised annual rates for traditional plans by 25 percent and HMOs by 30 percent.
The consortium switched to Medical Mutual of Ohio, but now has reason to believe the company plans to raise rates for traditional and HMO plans by 46 percent, Ghizzoni said.
The consortium will meet later this month to discuss options.
Insurance costs last year were up $183,000 over the previous year. If Medical Mutual ups rates 46 percent, Ghizzoni said, it would cost an additional $205,000 for the fiscal year.
That's astronomical, he said, especially since TCTC has only 134 employees.
"I can't imagine what it's going to cost larger districts," he said.
Talks: The administration and union met last week but Samuelson said "the pace has been very slow; we'd like to accelerate things."
He said it's been difficult to arrange schedules for talks.
Another thing hampering negotiations, according to Samuelson, is that classified and certified staff are in the same union.
It takes time to hammer out separate issues, he said, explaining that classified personnel are salaried and certified workers are hourly.
Union president Bill Elliser thinks the union's presence at this week's board meeting will help motivate both sides to reach an accord. He said many board members have shown continued support for employees.
Though an agreement has not been reached regarding salaries, past union president Nancy Kujala, who is on the negotiating team, said positive movement has been made.
Insurance is the issue, she said, explaining that employees aren't offered a plan for a Preferred Provider Organization. She said she wants to know if costs would drop if a PPO were available.
Superintendent Dianne Kenzie, who is retiring Jan. 1, said she hopes a pact is reached by then. Director Patricia Hura will be interim superintendent.
Negotiations are set for the end of the month, the same day the consortium is scheduled to meet.
"Hopefully we can wrap it all up then," Kenzie said.