City workers would pay part of drug premium in proposal

Unions balk at idea designed to reduce service cuts, layoffs

March 20, 2010|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com

City employees would pay a tenth of the cost of their prescription drug plan premium under a proposal that would shave as much as $6.5 million from the city's deficit next year and twice as much in subsequent years.

The prescription payment is part of an $18 million package of concessions being asked of union leaders that city officials say could stave off layoffs and cuts to service.

The proposal would cost current employees an average of $17 per month; retirees over the age of 65 would pay as much as $34. Workers and retirees already are charged a co-payment on prescriptions.

But union leaders say that the city has asked enough of workers.

"They cannot continue to ask the working men and woman of the city to keep bearing the burden of poor fiscal planning," said Bob Sledgeski, president of the firefighters union. "There is a cost associated with running this city, and one of those costs is employees. The city is responsible for compensating them fairly."

Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake has warned that many services will be curtailed as the city pares $121 million from its $2.2 billion spending plan. The mayor's plan for the budget year that begins July 1, which will formally be unveiled next week, includes layoffs and furlough days.

The prescription drug issue "is a long-term problem we have an opportunity to address in a fair way that is consistent with other counties," said Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for the mayor.

Unlike workers in surrounding jurisdictions, city employees do not pay a portion of their prescription premium, said city budget director Andrew W. Kleine. State employees pay 20 percent, he said.

The charge could offset layoffs of as many as 350 employees, Kleine said. The city is expected to pay more than $100 million for the prescription plan for the coming budget year, about a 10 percent jump from last year's cost.

Union leaders balked at the idea of raising the rates of an elderly retiree's prescription plan. "This would affect the people who can afford it the least," said Brenda Clayburn, president of the City Union of Baltimore, adding that the city had not brought up the proposal in four negotiating sessions over their next contract.

"How much money does a retired police officer or firefighter have to pay these costs?" asked Fraternal Order of Police President Robert F. Cherry.

If the unions agree to the fee, it would not be imposed on most employees until Jan. 1, 2011. Firefighters and fire officers would not be charged the fee until their new contract takes effect, on July 1, 2011.

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