Negotiation Updates - July 10, 2014

More information on healthcare options

During the July 10 WMU/WMU-AAUP bargaining session, we continued our discussions regarding healthcare and offered some ideas about future trends to consider. We recognize that our employees have different health insurance needs and we would like more options for them to consider. In particular we shared information regarding a new health plan option called a “high deductible health plan” (or HDHP). HDHPs are becoming more common. About 40% of colleges and universities offer these plans including three of our sister institutions in Michigan.

For those unfamiliar with HDHPs, they are health plans that allow an employee to pay less in payroll co-shares (payroll deductions), but pay a greater percentage of medical services as they are incurred. An employee’s exposure to medical expenses is limited with a HDHP. Information was shared regarding how a HDHP could work in tandem with a “health savings account” (HSA) as a savings platform for healthcare costs that could also be carried into retirement. In a health savings account, an employee or an employer can contribute dollars on a pre-tax basis that can be used to pay medical expenses.

With some preliminary study, such an option could be available to employees as early as our 2016 benefits plan year. Of course, a PPO plan would remain, with the less expensive HDHP offered as an alternative choice. We will continue to share news about this new option so that employees can make an informed choice when we are ready to offer this program.

Update on progress at the table

The Agreement between Western and the WMU-AAUP contains articles that address economic issues and policies (such as Article 32 Economic Compensation and Article 36 Other Fringe Benefits), as well as articles that are noneconomic in content (such as Article 6 Right to Data, and Article 17 Tenure Policy and Procedures). Other articles have important impact in both areas, such as Article 42 Workload. 

Traditionally in the negotiation process, all noneconomic issues (or, Articles) are addressed and resolved before proceeding to negotiate the economic issues (Articles).  In the current round of negotiations with the WMU-AAUP, Western has--on more than one occasion—communicated the intent to negotiate and resolve all the noneconomic Articles before proceeding to the economic Articles.

Though Western has now completed the presentation all of its noneconomic proposals, we have not yet received all of the WMU-AAUP’s noneconomic proposals. And, although the parties continue to discuss issues, we have also not yet reached “tentative agreement” on any of the noneconomic issues (Articles) that have been proposed by either team.

Therefore, it is clear that the teams need to make a tremendous amount of progress on both noneconomic and, eventually, economic issues if we are to have an agreement in place by early September. Western has expressed its interest and commitment in reaching an agreement with the WMU-AAUP before the current contract expires.

Please feel free to contact any of the Western bargaining team if you have questions or comments to share: Nancy Mansberger (Academic Collective Bargaining), Jonathan Bush (English); Steve Butt (Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering); Dan Guyette (College of Fine Arts), Kay Palan (Hayworth College of Business), Kurt Sherwood (Outside Counsel); Jan Van Der Kley (Business and Finance).