June 25, 2008

Not Just Gas Prices

I had a meeting with the business agent from my local, one of the other shop stewards and the company lawyer where I work. We were discussing the issue of our health and welfare fund and how to keep it in the black. By August the reserve that is used to cover the cost of our healthcare subscription will have run out. In order to maintain coverage we can do one of two things: pay the $350 a month increase out of our own pocket or go to a plan with less coverage and only pay $240 more a month. Pick your poison.

My personal preference is to maintain the higher level of coverage. It's a big hit on the wallet, yes. At this stage of life it's essential. When I was younger I would always complain of how much of our raise we would divert to the health and welfare fund. I rarely got so much as a cold. "I want that money in my pocket", I would say. The old-timers that were near retirement were bitterly opposed to keeping the raise and accepting less coverage. Twenty years later, I understand why.

One of the main reasons I declined the job offer I received from the Union Pacific Railroad back in May '08 was the costs related health care coverage. They talked about $20 doctor co-pays and $10 prescriptions. That alone would have a huge impact on my wage. I would have been taking a pay cut if I was hired and on top of that I would have the huge increase in helthcare costs. The math didn't figure in my favor. It would have been a real hardship to have accepted the job and left my current one.

I don't know the exact number of contractual raises where we have diverted most or all of it to the health and welfare fund but I can say it's been most of the raises in the last four years. The membership meetings that we have when we vote on whether to divert funds or not are always contentious. The young guys only think about the paycheck. Not that us old-timers don't, it's just that the young guys are not thinking about the benefits of the incredibly good healthcare coverage we have. Our business agent said that the only group in the local to still be on Plan 1A (the cadillac plan) is Young's Market Co. Young's is a statewide operation, essentially a monopoly on liquor distribution.

The bottom line is I'm going to have to hope that the other old-timers here will show up to the membership meeting and opt to keep the current plan. Personally, I'm willing to bear that extra cost because I believe that the plan with lesser coverage, in the long run, would lead to much higher out of pocket expenses. I would love to be proven wrong!

On a happier note....gas just went down four cents a gallon to $4.45 yesterday!

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