City Commission raises health insurance rates of some West Palm Beach employees after impasse

The City of West Palm Beach City Commission has raised the health insurance premiums of 600 employees represented by the SEIU Florida Public Services Union.

The decision came after the city and an SEIU negotiator addressed Commissioners during a contentious commission meeting and after months of negotiations, the involvement of an arbiter and, most recently, an impasse.

Commissioners raised the premiums by four point one percent; employees will pay more for prescription drugs and doctors visits, have less deducted from their paychecks and have access to free primary care at a city health center for employees.

The employees were faced with the increase, they said, while the city continued to pay the full health care costs of some senior executives and elected officials.

Mayor Jeri Muoio said the issue of executive compensation was a separate issue and had no place in union negotiations.

"Nobody wants to pay more for health care. We understand that. But, our plan is fair. It's in line with other cities," said Elliot Cohen, a City of West Palm Beach spokesperson. "What the union was arguing was really sort of outside the scope of what two independent arbiters said they should be looking at."

Earlier this year, the union rejected the recommendation of a Special Magistrate that the city's proposed increase was fair.

Union members said the city, in the face of a $6 million budget gap, should not continue to pay the health care costs of a select few.

"It's just not fair that a certain segment of the employee population does not pay into it and, if they were to pay into it and we all share the burdens together, I think our employees would recognize that everybody does feel that they're in it together," said Joseph Brenner, a union representative.

Rick Smith, a union chief of staff, told NewsChannel 5 on Tuesday that the city could save more than a quarter million dollars if all of its employees paid a share of the insurance costs.

The City Commission's decision is final and binding.

Kimberly Mitchell, a City Commissioner, said the city would have to take a hard look at the executive compensation issue during its upcoming budget process.

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