Wednesday, August 8, 2001
Physicians Union Members Criticize Benefits Offer Adopted by Board of Supervisors
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Members of a physicians union accused the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors of unfair bargaining practices and threatened future legal action before the board voted 4-0 yesterday to institute a final benefits package offer for the union.
The vote removes the 800 members of the Union of American Physicians & Dentists’ Los Angeles chapter from the Megaflex cafeteria benefit plan, which the county says is reserved for non-represented employees, and gives them the Choices cafeteria benefit package instead.
“Why does the board want to provoke a fight with its physicians?” UAPD Regional Administrator Joe Bader asked. “This is going to be a big fight and we’re not going to give up on our benefits.”
Members of UAPD, who work for the county’s six major hospitals, county clinics, the Sheriff’s Department, and the coroner, claim the change from Megaflex is retaliation for the decision of the post-residency physicians to unionize.
That decision was made by a vote by the doctors in May 1999.
Patricia Swancutt, county chief of compensation policy, said the plans are relatively the same and there is no difference in cost to the county.
Under Megaflex, which was adopted by the county in 1991, attending doctors received a percentage of their monthly pretax salary to use towards purchasing health, dental, and life insurance along with sick days and vacation time.
Any money not spent out of the Megaflex funds on benefits was given to the physician in cash.
The percentage, which is related to seniority, has three different levels at 14.5, 17 and 19 percent with the top level reserved for department heads and employees with more than 10 years of county service before 1991.
In contrast to Megaflex, the Choices plan does not allow employees to purchase sick days and vacation time from a set sum of money, but allots them a certain number of paid sick days and vacation time.
Choices employees are allowed to pay for medical, dental, and life insurance with a set amount of county money.
The Choices plan is just another way of providing benefits, Reiko Kageyama of the county’s employee relations office said.
Employees who do not purchase medical insurance are eligible to receive some money in lieu of insurance, but it is a much smaller amount available to Megaflex employees due to the paid leave time, Swancutt said.
But UAPD members said the switch to Choices from Megaflex would both hurt them financially and deny them the opportunity to stay with family doctors and dentists.
“You are ripping people out of their benefit plans and away from their family doctors,” Bader said. “This could cause irreparable harm.”
Bader also told the board that some doctors could stand to lose up to $20,000 a year if they are switched to Choices.
“We’re here because we want to do public service,” Bader said, noting that private doctors make nearly double what county doctors earn. “The benefits help to make up what we don’t get in salary. We don’t need sick days that we won’t use.”
Along with accusations of financial repercussions, the union also claimed the county acted unfairly in negotiating the benefits plans.
“It is our position that the county never bargained in good faith from the beginning on the benefits issue,” Bader told the board.
Bader claimed the board and CAO David Janssen warned against unionization with the threats of lost Megaflex benefits if unionization took place.
An Unfair Labor Practice Charge has been filed on behalf of the union against the county and is scheduled to be heard in coming months.
Supervisor Yvonne Burke denied Bader’s accusations and defended the board’s action, saying preferential treatment could not be given to doctors just because they are doctors.
“We have to treat everyone the same,” Supervisor Yvonne Burke said. “It’s not retaliation, it’s consistency.”
Burke also said the physicians were aware that unionized county employees are not eligible for Megaflex benefits before the decision to unionize was made, adding that it is possible that some union members were not informed of the situation.
County officials said it is in to the benefit of the county not to have all unionized workers.
“The county has to give an incentive for workers not to unionize,” county spokeswoman Judy Hammond said.
Bader said the union is looking into what its membership is willing to do to force the county to return the physicians to Megaflex.
The Choices plan is set to go into effect for the UAPD beginning January 2002.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company