Tuesday, Aug 21, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

James P. Hoffa: Retirement facility workers deserve quality health care

Ohio Living, an elder care residential provider that operates 12 facilities statewide, was founded by the Ohio/​Michigan Presbyterian Synod of the Covenant headquartered in Maumee. Providing quality services to seniors is a top mission of this regional Presbyterian body.

It’s a philosophy also supposedly adopted at its different locations. Ohio Living Rockynol, a facility in Akron, says on its website that it aims to give its residents “the security of knowing quality care and services are close at hand.”

Given that, one would think the company would look out for its employees to make sure they are treated with respect and dignity. But it takes a much different attitude towards those who work there. Instead, workers are being forced to dig deep into their own pockets to pay more for substandard health insurance.

Management at the Akron location, which has about 140 employees who are members of Teamsters Local 348, kicked full-time working members off their union health care plan at the beginning of 2018. They have also refused to meet to negotiate a new contract since last September, even though the last agreement expired in October 2016.

Previously, union workers paid no more than $35 per pay period (and some paid nothing) for insurance that covered health, dental and vision. The plan had a family deductible of $1,000 a year. But now, as part of a switch to the company’s plan, workers pay at least $72.37 per pay period for the cheapest family medical, dental, and vision plans, and some pay three times as much. Those earning more than $34,000 a year pay even more. The real kicker is that the family deductible increased fivefold, to $5,000.

As a result, some workers have had to end coverage for their family members because they can no longer afford it. Tracy Townsend, a 26-year employee at the Rockynol facility, is one of them. “I had breast cancer and my union insurance covered everything,” she said. “Now the new Ohio Living insurance denied one of my medications. I had to drop my family off the insurance just to make ends meet.”

Others, meanwhile, have chosen to reduce their own coverage by dropping dental or vision care. And while the company makes contributions to a newly-created health reimbursement account, they do not make up for the increased worker contributions for health benefits. There is also the reality that the company can hike health care premiums in the future.

At a time when many in Congress want to rollback health care protections, Ohio Living Rockynol is showing why that debate is so perilous for so many. Even if workers have good insurance, their employers can turn on them without a moment’s notice and force them into high-cost plans that make it impossible for them to provide for their families.

These nursing assistants, receptionists, cooks, food service workers, porters, housekeepers, maintenance workers, laundry workers and transportation workers don’t have a lot of money to spare to cover these additional costs. The average wage for the 140 union workers is $10.85 an hour, while those with 15 years or more experience make an average of $12.42 an hour.

That’s why it is unconscionable that a religiously-affiliated business would crack down on its own workers this way. These are people just trying to earn a living so they can support their families and provide the peace-of-mind that having quality health benefits allows, the same security that their employer promises to those that reside at the facility. Instead, Ohio Living Rockynol is turning their back on them.

Local 348 members at the facility have sought to meet with Presbyterian Church officials to tell them about their struggles, but to no avail. It’s time for church and company authorities to begin practicing what they preach and provide fair pay and benefits to their workers.

James P. Hoffa is the general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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