Members Would Accept Sacrifices to Rescue Their Current Health Plan


Guild members at The Times, Times Digital and WQXR would rather pay more to preserve their current health care structure and accept lower benefits than be reassigned to the company’s management-controlled non-Guild plan, a Guild survey showed.

The online survey found that nearly three-quarters of members opposed abandoning the financially troubled Guild-Times Benefits Fund, the independent insurance plan that pays their medical and dental claims, in favor of the health care plan that covers nonunion Times employees and whose costs and benefits are determined solely by management.

To save their current plan, nearly three-fourths of members would contribute at least 1 percent of their salary and almost two-thirds would accept benefit cuts, the survey showed. Members also opposed eliminating coverage for retirees as a cost-savings measure, but favored increasing the amount retirees would have to pay for their coverage.

The Guild opened the Web-based survey to members from Sept. 2 to 17 and issued several email reminders after projections showed the Benefits Fund running out of cash in about year and management showed no willingness to save it, even in exchange for other economic concessions. The Benefits Fund is overseen by equal numbers of Guild and management trustees. One-third of the 1,400 members at the three Times-owned entities responded to the survey. Excluding the temporaries and casuals, who are not eligible for medical coverage, the response was nearly 40 percent.

As part of the survey, members were told that their current health care structure could be saved only with higher payroll contributions, benefit cuts, or both. Given those costs, when members were asked if they would prefer to abandon the Fund “and have the Guild try to negotiate a transition to the non-Guild plan, where the Guild would not be able to influence future coverage,” 73 percent said no and 27 percent said yes.

The survey did not mention that as a condition for allowing Guild members into the nonunion health care plan, management is demanding a raft of contractual concessions under which members would work longer hours, earn less and have less free time to spend with family and friends.

An almost identical majority – 72.6 percent – was willing to contribute at least 1 percent of current pay or future pay hikes to keep the Benefits Fund afloat through 2011, when the current Guild-Times contract expires. Thirty-nine percent said they would contribute at least 2 percent to save the Fund.

Would you favor:    YES    NO
Diverting at least 1% of pay    72.6%    27.4%
Cutting benefits    62.7%    37.3%
Dumping Fund    27.0%    73.0%

Support for saving the Benefits Fund increased roughly proportionate with members’ length of service, the survey showed. But even among members with less than three years on the job, a majority of 59.7 percent supported saving the Fund. Support for saving the Benefits Fund grew to 83.9 percent among members with more than 20 years of service.

Income levels did not appear to be a factor in attitudes toward the Benefits Fund. The respondents were almost equally divided between those with more than 10 years of service and those with less than 10 years. Nearly half made more than $90,000.

Those with:    Overall %    Dump Fund    Save Fund
< 3 yrs    17.0%    40.3%    59.7%
3-10 yrs    34.1%    35.0%    65.0%
10-20 yrs    26.3%    19.0%    81.0%
> 20 yrs     22.6%    16.1%    83.9%
Overall    100.0%    27.0%    73.0%

Annual Pay    Overall %    Dump Fund    Save Fund
< $50K    4.4%    28.6%    71.4%
$50-75K    19.6%    26.3%    73.7%
$75-90K    28.3%    26.0%    74.0%
> $90K     47.7%    28.9%    71.1%
Overall    100.0%    27.0%    73.0%

Asked if they would favor “cutting benefits (i.e., making users pay more) as part of the solution to the Fund’s troubles, 62.7 percent said yes and 37.3 percent said no. Given a list of 10 benefit-cutting options, a majority of members said they would accept the following changes in their coverage:

    Raise co-pays
    Raise out-of-network deductibles
    Impose in-network deductibles
    Lower the current 80 percent coverage for out-of-network services
    Reduce prescription drug coverage
    Eliminate vision coverage for dependents

But they opposed the following changes:

    Eliminate out-of-network coverage
    Eliminate dental coverage of dependents
    Lower the current 100 percent in-network coverage

Despite being told that the company, which under the current contract must contribute about 6 percent of payroll into the Benefits Fund, pays nothing to cover retirees, members overwhelmingly opposed eliminating medical coverage for retirees, especially their own when they retire.

Members opposed eliminating coverage for retirees younger than 65 with a 62.5 percent majority, for post-65 retirees with a 77.7 percent majority and for themselves (after they retire) with a 92.3 percent majority.

Like overall attitudes toward the independent Benefits Fund, support for retiree coverage tended to ebb among members with less service. But even among members with less than three years on the job, 53 percent opposed eliminating coverage for pre-65 retirees, 72.3 percent opposed eliminating it for post-65 retirees and 89.2 percent opposed eliminating benefits for themselves when they retire.

But 58.4 percent of respondents overall said retirees should increase the contributions they currently pay for their coverage.

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