Asking new Metrobus employees to share the cost of their group insurance plan 50-50 isn’t unreasonable, says St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe — especially now that city councillors are doing the same thing.
About 100 Metrobus workers, including bus drivers and mechanics, have been on strike since Nov. 4, with the main issue being a benefits package that would see new employees paying half their group insurance premiums. The workers currently pay about 12 per cent of their premiums.
A 50-50 cost sharing arrangement is what all other employees of the city pay, apart from councillors, who pay four per cent of their premiums. This is about to change, however, after a recent unanimous vote.
“It came up at one of our private meetings a month ago that we should be on the same playing field as the other groups when it comes to health benefit,” O’Keefe told The Telegram. “Unanimously, council agreed to do it on a 50-50 cost-sharing basis, and to do it as part of our budget process.”
The budget is still being finalized, O’Keefe said. But the decision has been made and council will stick with it.
Metrobus workers are now the only ones employed by the city who don’t pay 50 per cent of their premiums.
“They are the only group that is not included at this point in time, and that’s their sticking issue,” O’Keefe said.
Metrobus wants to increase the workers’ share of the premiums, but for newly hired employees only — current employees wouldn’t see any change to their costs.
“I think that’s the fair way to do it, so you’re not taking away anything from any current employees,” O’Keefe said. “I can’t get involved in the negotiations and I’m not, but that’s my opinion on the 50-50 (arrangement) generally.”
Metrobus general manager Judy Powell said the cost of the group benefit plan has been a concern for the public transportation commission over the past few years, and the proposed 50-50 arrangement is a measure to control this cost.
It’s actually a more lenient deal than Metrobus had originally asked for in negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents the employees, Powell said, particularly when combined with the wage increase the commission is offering.
“When we initially went into these negotiations, our initial proposal was for all employees to move to 50-50, but as we went through, we thought it would achieve a deal for us if we said we’ll protect the employees who are already here,” she explained.
“We thought that was more than a reasonable offer in light of the fact that we put a 15.5 per cent wage increase on the table. That wage increase recognizes what we’re asking.”
A call from The Telegram to the Amalgamated Transit Union wasn’t returned as of press time Friday.