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Why the Librarian Negotiating Committee Should Continue to Negotiate Over Retiree Benefits

As UC-AFT Berkeley librarian members representing both the first and second tier of the proposed retiree health plan, we believe it would be a mistake to agree to management’s divide and conquer strategy.  While some of us need the merit pay owed us, we feel trading away equity for new, younger, and future librarian colleagues in retirement healthcare and pension sends a very negative and defensive message to our members as well as our other UC colleagues.

It appears that these changes will not affect anyone who retires at 65 or later.  But for those who do need to retire early, the
impacts on health coverage could be significant.   At a recent meeting on the changes, the following issues were raised:

1) Most people do not plan on retiring early. However, many do retire earlier than they had planned for various reasons—often related to health or physical capacity to do the job. Gaps in coverage between 55 and 65 can have large and lasting impacts on an individual’s health. 

2) The Affordable Care Act provides new coverage options for people under 65.  UCOP should take these changes into account in costing out retiree health benefits for early retirees and in the benefit design.  

3) Two-tier systems erode solidarity. Unlike pensions, retiree health benefits are not guaranteed. If the majority of members have reduced benefits, we should not expect them to stand up for the benefits for the minority who retain the greater benefits.

We have been told that a third of currently employed librarians would be placed in the second tier of the proposed retiree health plan. Why should we agree to sacrifice retiree health benefits for new hires and mid-career members in exchange for merits already owed to us, and without any commitment from management to a fair salary increase?  
We know the librarians’ bargaining unit is small.  We recognize the difficult challenge we face now and the work it will take to mobilize our members.  However, we believe UC management’s effort to divide and weaken our union has actually strengthened our solidarity and resolve. We see this moment as an opportunity for organizing and building our union.
You say that if we hold out longer, management may decide not to pay our merit raises retroactively.  But they have not even made this threat, and it is not clear if they will.  Such an action would be hard for them to justify, especially after the passage of Proposition 30.  We believe that librarians would not agree to a contract without retroactive merits.
To summarize: 
-   Our bargaining team and union leadership should at least make an effort to preserve all or most of our current librarians’ benefits. 
-   Language allowing management to withhold merit increases during bargaining should be removed from our MOU.
-   Our contract negotiation efforts should be coordinated with other unions to help us gain much needed leverage.

Shayee Khanaka

Teresa Mora

Jane Rosario

Jason Schultz