Faculty members not budgeting on three-year contract due to health insurance disagreements

Ferris mathematics professor Holly Price protested at a Ferris Faculty Association picket this year. Price is on
the FFA negotiating team, which last met with the university bargaining team Friday, Oct. 5. Photo by : Megell Strayhorn I Multimedia Editor

Some Ferris faculty have been getting “screwed” since health care regulations changed in 2012, according to Ferris mathematics professor Holly Price.

“We’re losing ground every single year and I just don’t see that this will be good in the long run,” Price said.

The latest contract negotiation meeting between the university and the Ferris Faculty Association (FFA), which took place Friday, Oct. 5, made minimal movement and was a hostile atmosphere according to Price, who is on the FFA negotiations team. One of the persisting
issues is the university’s insistence on a five-year contract versus the three-year deal the FFA is pushing for.

Price said the FFA is standing its ground on a three-year contract because of past issues with health insurance. The state of Michigan has limitations on how much employers can contribute to their employees’ health insurance called statutory caps, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury. These limits increase every year to adjust for inflation and have averaged a 2.83 percent increase over the past six years.

“I’m not going to put our members at risk and trap them into a five-year deal when the health insurance isn’t fair,” Price said. “[The university’s] argument is they can’t have that uncertainty and we have the same argument. They want to cap the cap because of the uncertainty and we want a three-year deal because of the uncertainty.”

State employees are responsible for paying whatever cost of their health insurance exceeds the cap, which is set at $13,981 for two-person coverage this year according to the Michigan Department of Treasury. This means when state caps increase and employers are not bound by contract to increase their payment as well, the employees pay more money when their health insurance costs go up.

The university is not required to follow this legislation and could opt-out if the governing board voted to, according to Price.

“We all got burned when they switched over to the state caps because we were getting more money before,” Price said. “And so it was a big drop in what was being paid for our insurance from Ferris. They saved a bundle from the state caps.”

The university’s latest offer on the table included resetting to the state caps this year on Jan. 1, 2019. The following four years of the contract, the university proposed that health plan contribution increase would be a maximum of 3 percent, even though state caps increased by 3.4 and 3.3 percent in 2018 and 2017, respectively.

“If the state corrects the rates again, the 3 percent prevents Ferris from honoring it. It’s something we can live with for a short contract, but not a long one,” Price said. “We are almost in agreement on health care based on our proposal Friday to them, but it’s a big reason we
won’t go past three years.”

Price said when the state caps were introduced in 2012, the state made a mistake in calculating the two-person category, which they later amended in 2013. The state declared it was a retroactive change, but Ferris did not correct the change, according to Price, and the faculty members were told they would have to wait until their contract expired in five years to fix it.

FFA President Charles Bacon also said the meeting Tuesday, Oct. 2, was “exceedingly confrontational” and “pointless,” as essentially all the FFA’s counter-proposals were denied.

“Given that inflation is running at 2 to 2.5 percent, to expect us to agree to salary increases that mean in three to five years we make less money than we do now, it’s just silly,” Bacon said. “Their rationale on Tuesday night was ‘Well, everyone else took it’ … that doesn’t go
over great.”

President David Eisler was not available for comment. Ferris Communications Officer Michelle Rasmussen declined to comment.

Price said she is concerned that this disrespect will drive away younger faculty, who bring ambition and innovation to academic programs.

“I worry, though. This kind of disrespect, it’s going to wear down the faculty. Faculty are going to leave, you know,” Price said. “We just want to be valued. Words are cheap, you know? Actions, we want actions. We want to see that our work is valued.”

Bacon said the sit-ins have not had any affect on Eisler and the Board of Trustees, but the FFA will continue in its efforts.

“We will have to turn up the heat on some major events because they’re not listening. They don’t care — the board doesn’t care, Eisler doesn’t care,” Bacon said. “Whatever that means, we’ll be in their face.”