KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Wisc. Flare-Up Triggers Other States’ Actions On Health Benefits, Pensions

The controversial issues surrounding unions and collective bargaining are bubbling up in other states as well.

Los Angeles Times: As Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Unions Do Battle, What's At Stake?
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed charging public employees more for their health insurance and pension benefits, setting off a firestorm of demonstrations, now in their second week. It also prompted all Democratic senators to flee the state, in effect blocking any action on the proposals. As part of the package, Walker also called for eliminating the right of unionized government workers to bargain collectively. Ohio and several other states with new Republican governors and legislatures are considering similar measures as a way to solve budget woes (Muskal, 2/24).

Star Tribune: In Pension And Benefits, Wisconsin Tops Minnesota
If Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wins his quest to force state workers to contribute more to their pensions and health care costs, he won't exactly plunge the state to the bottom on public worker benefits. He will put it on par with Minnesota. Wisconsin's 267,000 public workers pay next to nothing out-of-pocket toward their pensions. State and local governments are supposed to pay half the retirement contribution, with employees paying the rest. But in Wisconsin, many union contracts stipulate that the employer - which means taxpayers - picks up the employee's share. In Minnesota, it doesn't work that way because it can't. Here, public employees pay 5 to 6 percent of their salaries into their pensions, with taxpayers kicking in roughly the same amount. The split is written into state law and can't be tinkered with in collective bargaining agreements (Helgeson, 2/24).

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Unions Fare Well In Budget Polls
Amid a great deal of suspense over where the voting public will ultimately come down in the battle between Wisconsin Republicans and public employee unions, polls are starting to trickle in. The latest: A national poll of 1,000 adults taken Monday by Gallup finds significant opposition to the kinds of collective bargaining changes Gov. Scott Walker is proposing. Told that the legislature in Wisconsin is trying to reduce the state's budget deficit by passing a bill that would take away some collective bargaining rights for public employee unions, 61 percent of adults nationwide said they would oppose such a step, while 33 percent said they'd favor it. (78 percent of Democrats were opposed, as were 62 percent of independents and 41 percent of Republicans) (Gilbert, 2/23).

Stateline: Behind Collective Bargaining Debate, Mixed Experiences In The States
Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), Washington's largest state worker union, agreed to ... [a contract that] included furloughs that will cut pay by 3 percent and raises the share of health care costs workers have to pay from 12 percent to 15 percent. ... Still, given the state's fiscal problems, WFSE spokesman Tim Welch says his members are content with the new deal. [Gov. Christine] Gregoire initially proposed that workers pay 26 percent of their health costs (Maynard and Goodman, 2/24).

San Francisco Chronicle: Showdown Brewing Over CA State Employee Pensions
A raucous, Wisconsin-style labor showdown is unlikely to unfold in California given its Democratic-controlled Legislature and union-friendly Gov. Jerry Brown. But a different type of showdown is simmering in California as business and taxpayer groups and Republicans are ratcheting up the pressure on Brown to ask for more concessions from public employee unions to help fill the state's $25.4 billion budget deficit. While union supporters gathered in Sacramento and Oakland on Tuesday night for vigils to show solidarity with their brethren in Wisconsin, the buzz among the 200 business leaders at the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce earlier in the day was how "in a budget crisis, everything should be on the table," said James Beckwith, president and CEO of Sacramento's Five Star Bank (Garofoli and Marinucci, 2/23).

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