Some city employees unhappy with changes to their healthcare plan

OCEANSIDE — A debate between members of the OCEA (Oceanside City Employees Association) prompted City Council to have a lengthy discussion before approving the memo of understanding between the city and OCEA on Sept. 4. 

The OCEA represents city maintenance, operational and clerical workers.

A handful of OCEA members addressed City Council prior to the vote and asked that approval of the MOU be delayed.

Their key contention with the MOU was the Kaiser-only healthcare plan option for city employees. Previously OCEA members had a choice between United Healthcare and Kaiser plans.

The change came after the city put a cap on its contribution to employee health coverage beginning in January 2014.

Continuing participation in the two-healthcare plan option would cost an OCEA member with a family $450 to $500 a month.

“United Healthcare classified employees as a high risk group,” Chester Mordasini, president of California Teamsters Local 911, said. “The costs went through the roof.”

OCEA members discussed the idea of a Kaiser-only medical option for employees at a significantly lower buy in cost. OCEA members would pay no out of pocket costs for healthcare the first year and a small increase the second year.

This option was presented through the teamsters union, which means OCEA employees would not be participating in the same healthcare agreement as other city employees.

The majority of OCEA members said they would like to go forward with the Kaiser-only option. It was included in the tentative agreement that was reached between the city and OCEA on Aug. 6, and ratified by OCEA members Aug. 27.

OCEA members who addressed City Council said they were “surprised” by the one healthcare plan option and felt the vote to ratify the MOU was not done according to OCEA bylaws.

“I don’t feel other employees were represented,” Steve Kemp, city employee, said.

Others who were disgruntled by the terms of the MOU said they felt they had to accept the Kaiser-only healthcare plan and believed they had no other options.

Council members said they felt they were in a sticky spot because the issue was a dispute between OCEA members.

“They are asking for a delay for a week, it’s a disservice to everyone trying to do this,” Councilman Jerry Kern said. “The angst is internally that they’re trying to address.”

Don Salazar, OCEA president, said members were well informed through meetings, flyers and website posts.

Salazar said OCEA members, who attended a meeting following an impasse in reaching a MOU with the city on July 9, voted 72 -3 to go forward with the Kaiser-only option. He added the meeting had a large turnout for the 300-member group.

“I can’t make 300 people come to a meeting if they don’t want to come,” Salazar said. “I’m sympathetic with these people who don’t want to change their doctors, but I have to go with the majority of my members.”

An OCEA vote on Aug. 27 confirmed that the majority of members wanted the cost saving Kaiser-only option as part of the MOU, in a 115-46 approval.

“I advise no revote on the tentative agreement,” Mordasini said. “We need to get on with open enrollment and making membership changes.”

City Council voted 4-0 to approve the MOU. Councilwoman Esther Sanchez abstained.

Salazar said OCEA would still hold a special meeting requested by 25 members. He added that there has been no change; the same number of employees opposes the MOU now as voted against it in August.

“One hundred sixty-one voted, 115 voted for this contract,” Salazar said. “My feeling is we have 115 who want this contract. I have to go with what my members tell me.”

The approved MOU will be in effect through June 30, 2015.

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