Damaging trust with unions, Flagler school board rejects employee discount its own teams had accepted


The Flagler County School District’s teachers’ and service workers’ unions have suspended labor negotiations with the district following what both unions say is a breach of the district’s commitment to provide discounts. unique on employee health insurance premiums. The unions consider it to be “bad faith”, to break trust in the district, to damage what had for many years been cordial relations between the two parties, and to raise the possibility of more formal measures.

The dispute arose after district negotiators agreed to award up to $900 in insurance premium discounts to employees over the coming year – $100 for each year an employee has worked for the district, up to nine years – only for the negotiating team to come back to the table and say no deal. The district team did so last week after a closed Flagler County School Board meeting, where the proposal was defeated.

“The topic that was tentatively accepted by the district bargaining team was a new idea for consideration involving health insurance,” Kristy Gavin, the school board attorney who sits on the board’s closed sessions. “Unfortunately, the District Chief Negotiating Team agreed to the idea before it was presented to council for consideration.” TA stands for agreement in principle. “The tentative agreement from the lead bargaining team was unfortunately premature. The board appreciates its relationship with the unions and as we are in the early stages of negotiations with all areas of the contract to be reviewed, we look forward to working collaboratively with the unions to achieve successful results. »

When asked if the insurance reimbursement proposal was still on the table, Gavin said “the subject could still be brought up and discussed”, although it was rejected by the board.

Expect a wave of union members among school board members on Tuesday night, when members protest the board’s decision and try to roll it back.

“From our perspective, what they did is the definition of bad faith bargaining,” said Katie Hansen, president of the Flagler County Education Association, the union representing teachers. “We are consulting with FEA legal staff to determine what our remedy is and next steps for what they have done.” FEA is the Florida Education Association. Hansen said that just as she is empowered by her members to negotiate on her behalf, so is the negotiating team on the other side.

Two days after the teachers union learned of the resumption, the district bargaining team said the same thing to Brun Hudson and his team at the Flagler Educational Support Professional Association.

“They apologized profusely and they said they had to withdraw the offer,” Hudson said, “which is sort of an unprecedented event because normally that doesn’t happen during negotiations. And that gives a terrible tone, because you have this broken trust between the unions and the district. And we’ve spent a lot of time building that trust, not just during my presidency, but by previous presidents for the better part of 30 years. We’ve tried to build that trust with the district and we had it, and now that trust has kind of eroded.

Hudson, like Hansen, had to report the development to union members. “It was a shock for my team,” he said. “It came as a shock to our service unit manager. And it’s come as a shock to all of our members now that we have to come back and tell them that oh, by the way, and you know, we said we said you were going to get that money, but now you’re not. ”

With nearly 1,800 employees, the school district is the county’s largest employer. It is self-insured by Brown and Brown. Teachers, principals, and service employees all pay the same insurance rates, regardless of income, depending on the plan they choose. The employee’s share of premiums in the three available plans ranges from $67 to $284 per month for an employee with no dependents, and from $1,305 to $1,864 per month for an employee and family. Vision and dental plans are separate and additional costs. (See the price list here.)

The district has an insurance committee that includes members of both unions, including Hansen and Hudson, district staff and other employees. The collegiate body is a collective that has nothing to do with the union negotiating teams: it is a unified consultative group. It last met about two months ago, when it finalized plans for insurance rates for the coming year. These plans would then be submitted to the school board for ratification. At this meeting, Hansen learned from the district insurance broker, Brown and Brown, that there was $4.2 million in the insurance reserve fund. The minimum required in this fund is $1.2 million, or the equivalent of two months of claims. (Last year, the district had $10.2 million in claims.) So the reserves are overfunded.

The money could not be used to increase the district’s contribution to insurance premiums. But the reserves could be used in other ways to cut costs. Not long ago, the district used some of those reserves to pay for repairs to the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club pool, Hansen said, believing employees use the pool, it improves their health and, therefore, it is a legitimate health-related expense. .

“So our team was discussing how best to use the money that’s in the insurance reserve, because we definitely have a lot more in there that needs to be there,” Hansen said. The team came up with the idea for the discount. The district and the unions conducted what are called “full-fledged” negotiations: every three years, the collective agreement is renegotiated from start to finish. The insurance reimbursement proposal was part of these negotiations.

The district’s bargaining team, led by assistant superintendents Bobby Bossardet and Paul Peacock, as well as human resources director Jewel Johnson and chief financial officer Patty Wormeck, all welcomed the idea, Hansen said, calling it a creative and original thinking. , and appeared willing to sign in two successive negotiation meetings. A memorandum of understanding has been drafted. The “loyalty” rebate has been set at a maximum of 9 years because the municipality has been self-financing for 9 years. It would only go to the approximately 1,100 employees currently enrolled in health plans. (See April 22 Memorandum of Understanding).

By the unions’ calculation, there would have been a one-time cost of more than millions of dollars just if every employee was entitled to the full $900 rebate. This is not the case. The union estimated the actual cost to be closer to $800,000.

“The district’s chief financial officer,” Hansen said, referring to Wormeck, “said at the end of this fiscal year, they expect insurance reserve funds to be $4.3 million. Withdraw from that $800,000 to pay the loyalty discount. That leaves them with $3.5 million. But they are only required to have a minimum of $1.2 million. So we’re still leaving them almost three times the minimum amount they have to keep in there. For me, our proposal was very responsible and fiscally conservative.

The plan was accepted by the district bargaining team in two successive bargaining sessions on April 13 and 20. . He is financially responsible. You know great jobs that are off the beaten track. We are happy to sign this and do it for the employees. So we signed and provisionally accepted. And then we didn’t hear anything until we got back to the table two weeks later, which was May 9th, only to have them tell us that the board refuses to support this tentative agreement because they cite without quotes, don’t like numbers. That’s what we were told. »

Hansen said the district’s negotiating team is made up of the superintendent’s executive office, or “the vast majority of his district-level senior staff who sit on that negotiating team, including your chief financial officer, and they don’t blink. no eyes,” she mentioned. “So I don’t understand why the board wouldn’t support it.”

It didn’t help matters that the district’s bargaining team “walked back” on its tentative agreement (a word Hansen used in his message to his members) the same week of Teacher Appreciation Week. and employees, when the district asked on its Facebook page, “Tell us about a school employee who impacted your school life.

For Brun, overthrowing the board also goes against the principle of self-insurance. “When you’re self-insured, one of the benefits is that you control your money, you control the money that comes in, and you can do things like give discounts to your people who are in the program. And that was one of the main reasons nine years ago that we moved to the self-insurance plan, so we could have a little more control over how our plans are created and how our money is used. And so yeah, again, we were shocked that the district decided to do this. He came out of nowhere.


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