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Local unions safe from health care premium proposal

BY AUDREY DWYER | FEBRUARY 07, 2012 7:20 AM

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While some Iowa lawmakers have proposed doubling state employee health-care premiums, local union members and supporters remain confident in the public's perspective of union members.

A budget proposal released last week by Iowa House Republicans would increase health-care premiums from $100 to $200 per month. The potential increase will be voted on during American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employee negotiations this October.

Though this proposal would not affect AFSCME 61 members, who have their health-insurance premiums locked in for the next three years, chapter President Steven Miller said local workers could still face major policy changes down the road.

"It depends on the negotiations," he said. "Who knows what will happen in the future?"

Despite the legislation, Miller said, he believes unions are well-respected in Iowa by the general public.

"I think in the states that have attacked the public-sector employees and their unions with anti-union legislation, you have seen a push back by the middle-class voter," he said. "If the middle class is to survive, the unions must survive as well."

The Iowa City AFSCME chapter has seen a 10 percent increase in membership over the last four years, he noted.

Iowa City resident Maria Houser Conzemius, whose husband is a local AFSCME member, said the local union's upcoming 1 percent and 2 percent wage raises would likely not cover the change in health-care costs and other deductibles.

"The higher deductibles haven't gone up this dramatically since my husband started working for the Iowa City Transit system 22 years ago," she said.

Though she agreed with Miller's views on state lawmakers attacking unions, she was more ambivalent on the public's perception.

"It depends if there's a Democratic or Republican majority [of residents]," she said. "The state is a swing state."

Dan Holman, president and statewide representative of AFSCME Coucil 61, said the state Republicans who proposed the budget are being hypocritical by not taking health-care increases for themselves.

"It's a shame what they are doing," he said. "[Iowa Republican legislators] are going after the employees who work every day for the citizens of the state."

Sen. Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa, said state legislators should look at funding methods beyond the doubled health-care premiums, such as a statewide health-care savings account.

"Before we start charging people more money, we should look at different deductible plans," he said.
State Republican legislators could not be reached for comment.


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