ICYMI NEA Makes Itself Look Selfish And Out Of Touch

ICYMI NEA Makes Itself Look Selfish And Out Of Touch

NEA makes itself look selfish and out of touch

There cannot be an organization more out of touch with the public, or with the circumstances surrounding their environment, than the Vermont NEA, the union representing our teachers.

There is little to no understanding that its members are teaching fewer students, or that the property tax burden is too much for Vermonters, or that the union has any role in trying to make our schools better and more affordable.

Clarification of this blindness came this week when the union turned its nose up at the proposal to collectively bargain with the state to reduce health care costs, something that would have saved roughly $28 million.

It is a unique circumstance. Under the Affordable Care Act, the teachers union can no longer keep its “Cadillac” health care plan, it has to switch to plans carried by Vermont Health Connect. It’s something that has to happen by November of this year, which means that all 60 local supervisory unions are involved in the same negotiation.

That sort of collective opportunity has never before been an option. Gov. Phil Scott, along with the state’s school boards, saw the opportunity for what it is, which is a way to reduce costs. School boards and the teachers union have repeatedly marked health care as one of reasons it’s been difficult to keep spending down. This was the chance to do something about it.

The Vermont Education Health Initiative [VEHI], the non-profit that has drawn up benefit plans for our school districts for the last 20 years, was tasked with the need to figure out how this transfer could be made. It did so, offering a handful of options that

would produce considerable savings, yet lower the premium costs for the teachers.

Here’s one proposal: If 85 percent of all Vermont’s teachers picked the platinum plan, and if they paid only 14 percent of the premium cost, the teachers would save $4 million in reduced premium costs and the state – the taxpayers – would save $28 million.

This proposal, and others like it, would have hit the reset button on how health care costs for schools would be managed. The governor has not only talked about this need, but tried to formalize the effort as part of a statewide health care contract.

The NEA took the opportunity to blast the governor, the school boards and anyone else who looked favorably on the shift from local to statewide negotiations. But we’re where we are because the leadership of the union wants things to remain as they always have. It thinks it’s better able to use its strength locally than it could statewide.

The union’s leadership criticized the governor’s move as “an assault on collective bargaining” and something “straight out of the Donald Trump and Scott Walker anti-union playbook.”

That’s easy, albeit simplistic, political rhetoric, and something that might play to the membership, but it plays very poorly to the general public, the majority of whom are paid less, get less and could only dream of paying 20 percent of their health care premiums, let alone 14 percent.

Property taxes are a large factor in the cost of living in Vermont, and the lion’s share of that cost comes from the need to pay for our schools. Our per-student costs are at the tip-top of the nation’s scale. Our pupilteacher ratio is the nation’s lowest, and

about half the national average. Roughly 80 percent of a school’s costs are labor-based, and part of that cost of labor is health care.

What the union had before it was a way to show Vermonters that it, too, is concerned with costs, and with efficiency, and with the need to be sympathetic to the burden others bear.

It would have cost them almost nothing. Their premiums would be less than they are now. It would place a priority on making better health care choices, something that is being pushed in every other corner of Vermont life.

What the Vermont NEA has done is thumb its nose at Vermonters, preferring to stick the money in its own pocket. That savings could have gone to taxpayers in the form of property tax relief. The savings could have gone into the educational fund and then to the children we’re trying to do a better job of educating. It could have gone to an early education fund that addresses our profound needs to reach children before they enter kindergarten. It could have gone to tuition assistance for students struggling to afford college.

The Vermont NEA gave the stiff arm to any and all of these options. By so doing, it made itself look selfish and apart.

That’s not how you win friends.

As a union, that’s not how you win followers to your cause.

This article was originally published in the St. Albans Messenger and written by Emerson Lynn.