CEDAR FALLS — United Faculty held an emergency meeting Wednesday about potential health insurance cost hikes resulting from changes to the state’s collective bargaining law.
Those increases became less dire just two hours before the meeting on the University of Northern Iowa campus.
“I’m just going to say to you, in my opinion, that’s because they blinked,” said United Faculty President Joe Gorton. “It’s not a coincidence that they gave us this announcement two hours before this meeting.”
But smaller increases didn’t negate the importance of the meeting in the eyes of the union members.
“This isn’t going to be the last issue we have to fight, but we came out of this one,” Gorton said.
He said changes to collective bargaining — along with funding cuts to the university — have not impacted the need for a union or its ability to work with the administration.
“It is true that our union does not have the contractual power that we used to have, same as AFSCME, but let me tell you something … we got things done, and we’re going to keep getting things done as long as you’re standing with us,” Gorton told 100 faculty and staff present.
The changes to the insurance affected not just United Faculty but also AFSCME — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — as well as other UNI employees and moved them all into the same pool.
UNI administration, in emails to staff, have thanked faculty and staff for their input throughout the process and explained the changes are “necessary to help control rising costs and maintain the viability of our plans.”
While United Faculty members disputed insurance costs are rising at the rates initially proposed, by Wednesday they had accepted the most recent proposal.
Gorton and Becky Hawbaker, vice president of United Faculty, said in the future they would like to see more transparency from the administration. They were taken by surprise, although some knew of the rate hike plans in the summer. Gorton said, though, some administrators were just as surprised as faculty.
“They say they value faculty. They say they want to support us. I say we make those actions match the words,” Hawbaker said. “I specifically pointed to these changes in health insurance, that with a 1.1 percent salary increase, and these (insurance) increases, it was tantamount to a pay cut, and that was not acceptable.”
Gorton and AFSCME’s Danny Homan made clear despite the legislative changes, they were working to protect union members and their families.
“They wounded us; I’m not going to lie about it, but we’re far from dead. We’re just starting to get back and fight, and this is part of it,” Gorton said.