Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Health care costs hurting PAT

Pittsburgh PA - The Pittsburgh Tribune Review has a story related to the rising health costs and how it is effecting the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT). The article tells of an attempt by some Pennsylvania politicians to try and reign in the costs but as usual, the political approach doesn't address the issue of the problem.

The cost of providing health care costs has gone up 15% a year on average and is one of the largest chunks of the operating budget. This cost doesn't just pay for current employees but it also pays for the retiree health care package. Health care costs actually effect PAT more than rising fuel costs do in the long term.

This health care issue stems from some very generous contracts from the 1970's where PAT was offering some very lucrative benefits. These benefits are now saddling the cash strapped agency with an ever growing expense because more benefits were added through the years during contract negotiations.

State politicians want fix this problem by literally "stripping the vote" from PAT's retired employees so that retirees can't vote in union elections for union leadership. Some politicians believe that if the retirees have no say in the leadership of the union that still represents them that the union leadership will be more willing to accept changes in health care benefits.

As usual, the politicians have it back assward. Instead of dealing with the source of the high costs, they go after the end user. This proposal will do nothing to reign in the rising costs of health care at PAT or any other unionized transit system in Pennsylvania.

What will happen is that health care costs will continue to rise and any relief from the costs by union concessions will be temporary at best. Private employers have their employees pay a good portion of their salaries for their health care and the employers health care costs are still going through the roof. Given this fact, I fail to see how this proposed law will solve the problem.

While I agree that the union needs to wake up to reality and accept the fact that the days of low cost health care coverage are over and they need to start coughing up for a portion of the cost, the political approach being applied in this case won't do anything to solve the problem of rising cost of health care for PAT.

From information I have, PAT union employees currently pay 1% of the health care costs. While it's a start, the 1% barely makes a scratch in the overall cost of providing benefits.

I do understand the union's position on not wanting to give a concession on health care given PAT management's past behavior of wasting money. Many members of the union have stated similar sentiments in the past that basically state "before they ask us for concessions, they need to stop the waste in the administration". When you have key officials of PAT that double dipped into the already strained pension plan through a Deferred Retirement Option Plan or DROP, it makes asking the union to make concessions even more difficult.

No law barring the retiree vote for union officials will suddenly get the union to vote for concessions. What is needed is for the management to cut the waste and take the same concessions they ask of employees before the union will even begin to entertain making concessions to the contract.

While I'm hardly a fan of PAT's union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, what politicians are suggesting be done to control health care costs at PAT is just plain wrong. This attempt reads as more of a way to break the union rather than dealing with the rising health care issue. Until PAT management shows they are slashing themselves to the bone, I don't see much in the way of concessions on health care by the union forthcoming.

The core issues of high health care costs aren't because retirees have a say in their union leadership. The core issues are completely unrelated and too numerous to deal with here. This proposal needs to be called for what it is, an attempt by government to break a union as it sure isn't a way to reign in health care costs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rd i can understand your points on the health care but they take like 500 out of are pay checks a year so just over the 1500 drivers that a big help.

Tim 1499