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Jacksonville employees eye union

JACKSONVILLE ' City employees say rising insurance costs have engaged them in a vote of their own just weeks before November's general election.

The city's dozen or so non-management employees received ballots this week from Teamsters Local Union No. 223. The ballots are expected back within the next week or two.

City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen and public works employee Doug Templer both said health care costs are rising at a faster rate than the city can afford to pay. In the past year, insurance rates have increased by 20 percent. The city's &

36;590 a month cap on insurance benefits is not covering all the costs, particularly for those employees with larger families, they said.

Each year, city employees vote on what plan to choose. But with a small employee pool, they say their choices are limited.

Their current healthcare plan has a deductible cost of &

36;500 per person, which caps at &

36;1,500 per family. Employees with families of three or more pay an extra &

36;66 per month and employees with families of four or more pay an additional &

36;172.46 for family coverage.

Those who don't use up all of their monthly &

36;590 health care benefit on insurance can roll the difference into a retirement plan, education or additional medical related expenses.

Templer said he will most likely become the union steward if the city's employees vote to join. He said the city's current benefit cap is hitting some employees with families particularly hard ' especially when coupled with deductibles, extra fees and the cost of co-pay on doctor's office visits, hospitalizations and medicines.

Some of us with families are shelling out approximately &

36;300 a month in extra costs. Pay increases aren't going up at the same rate to cover the additional costs, Templer said.

Templer said the Teamsters offer a comprehensive health care package at &

36;555 a month with a &

36;100 per person deductible and a better co-pay package.

Even with the additional &

36;32 a month in union dues, Templer feels his family will be better off because of the reduced amount of costs overall.

However, most single people who work for the city are not likely to fare as well under this new plan. Wyntergreen and Templer agree many of the single employees are doing well on the current monthly rate. In fact, singles with no significant health issues are not spending the full allotment and some are able to bank up to a couple hundred dollars out of the &

36;590 each month into their 401K retirement funds or other specified areas.

The Teamsters have an excellent benefit plan. This (union) plan offers lower rates than what we can afford for a family, said Wyntergreen. But, for most singles, it will be more than what they're paying now. They won't have that extra couple hundred to bank anymore.

Templer said the burden on families is paramount and feels singles are probably in a better position to afford the extra costs.

I think most singles can afford to pay an extra &

36;300 rather than those of us with kids to feed and support, Templer said.

He also said joining the union has some other pluses, such as legal representation of employees in issues such as wrongful termination cases against the city.

They say they'll represent us if we need it. They're kind of like a big brother to an employee, Templer said.

Those in city management are not eligible to join, Wyntergreen said.

Wyntergreen said city officials are neutral on the union issue.

We're not telling them (employees) what to do. It's their choice, he said.

Sanne Specht is a free-lance writer living in Rogue River. Reach her at RogueRiverGal@aol.com.