Yale Police Department patrol officers and detectives, the latest batch of Yale employees embroiled in negotiations with the University administration, still face many hurdles before a new contract is signed, with health care coverage and other benefits emerging as the primary points of contention in negotiations between the two parties.
These 71 officers — represented by their union, the Yale Police Benevolent Association — have been negotiating with the University’s labor relations representatives since spring 2016. In the past year, both sides have reached consensus on the operational duties that YPD officers are expected to shoulder. Yet as negotiations on economic issues like health care and retirement plans began, relations between the YPBA and the University took a turn for the worse.
“After almost 40 negotiations sessions, we are nowhere near concluding,” YPD officer and YPBA spokesman Mike Hall said.
According to Yale’s health plan proposals, which were obtained by the News, the University presented the YPBA with two options: a cost-shifting coverage model in which officers face annual premium increases, or a preventative treatment-oriented system called the Health Expectations Program.
Joe Sarno, the University’s associate director of labor relations and Yale’s contract negotiator, said the first option is a traditional approach to changes in health care plans. In comparison, HEP is designed to help employees prevent diseases and manage their health status so as to curb an overall premium rise, he said.
HEP includes many preventative examinations, such as mammograms and colonoscopy screenings, and personal services like medical coaching through telephonic and in-person appointments, according to the documents.
“For [HEP] to succeed, employees must engage to improve the status of their health outcomes,” Sarno said. “If that happens, overall health care cost would go down. That is to the benefit of Yale and its employees.”
He added that preventative initiatives like HEP have become a relatively common practice among state unions.
The new health plan, however, requires a $25 opt-out fee per week if the employees do not wish to use its medical services. Hall said HEP’s top-down approach and opt-out fee constitute a massive change that YPBA members were not anticipating, adding that union members were “very upset” when they found out about the new policy.
According to YPD officer and YPBA president Rich Simons, HEP is also the health care package that Yale offers to Local 34 and Local 35, the unions that represent around 5,000 service, clerical, technical and maintenance employees at the University.
In fact, leadership from Local 34 and Local 35 have sat in YPBA negotiations sessions and have given YPD officers advice on how to improve their job security. Simons alleged that the University has been outsourcing overtime jobs to Yale Security officers, who are not trained in crowd control and firearm use.
YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins, however, denied this accusation. He said he would never replace police officers with security officers and said that he has always effectively distributed resources.
The contract negotiation is bogged down not only by benefits for active members, but also by financial assistance to retired officers. For instance, current YPD police officers could retire at the age of 50 and enjoy fully-imbursed health care from Yale for 15 years before their Medicare benefits take over. But under the University’s new proposals, officers hired after Jan. 1, 2018, would have to shoulder this 15-year premium payment on their own.
Hall, who puts this benefit reduction at $45,325, said the new proposal may be financially crippling for members who wish to retire but cannot afford health care before reaching the age of 65.
“It’s a huge issue for us,” Simons said. “We do our job, and we know how important it is. We should be rightly compensated for the job that we have.”
The University offered to keep covering post-retirement premiums for currently active members and to not change the terms of this benefit for 10 years, which would guarantee coverage for the next round of contract renewal in six years.
Sarno added that Yale provides generous packages for its employees compared with other public departments, even for newly-hired officers who are excluded from this 15-year coverage. In contrast to the YPBA leadership’s outlook, Sarno said that the contract negotiation has been going “reasonably well” and that productive dialogues have taken place.
The current YPBA contract expired June 30, 2016, and the union has been signing monthly renewals with Yale during the negotiation process.
Contact Amy Cheng at firstname.lastname@example.org .