August 5, 2008

Unions’ Objection to Rhode Island Health Care Move Filed in Court

By Paul Edward Parker, The Providence Journal, R.I.

Aug. 5--PROVIDENCE -- Unionized state workers yesterday filed court papers spelling out their objections to a move by Governor Carcieri to impose higher health-insurance costs on thousands of state employees who overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal last month.

The state workers' union, Council 94, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has asked a Superior Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order that would block Carcieri from implementing the higher health-insurance costs. A hearing on the matter has been scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow.

Yesterday's court filing mirrored recent public statements by the leadership of Council 94, an umbrella organization of 24 state employee unions representing more than 4,000 workers. The union argues that Carcieri is bound by the terms of the union contract that expired June 30 -- including health-insurance costs -- until a new contract is reached. The workers also argue that state law requires Carcieri to negotiate a new contract with them or, if negotiations fail, follow statutory procedures for resolving the impasse.

A spokeswoman for Carcieri said yesterday that the governor's lawyers are researching whether he is required to file a response to the union's arguments before tomorrow's hearing.

Last week, Carcieri acceded to Judge Patricia A. Hurst's request not to start the higher health-insurance costs until she can consider the matter tomorrow.

Carcieri ordered that state employees pay more for their health insurance after Council 94 members voted down a contract proposal that had been endorsed by union leadership. Carcieri has said the higher payments are needed to help balance the state budget, which has been battered by a state economic decline and the highest unemployment rate among the New England states. The governor estimates the change would save $10 million as the state faces a deficit of more than $400 million in a budget of nearly $7 billion.

But union leaders have said the increases are unfair to lower-paid employees. As an example, one union official said an employee earning $40,000 a year would see weekly family-health-plan costs jump from $38 to $90.


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