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Policy: Labor

Decision on contract for Michigan employees postponed

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Associated Press,Labor unions,Labor,Michigan,AFSCME

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Civil Service Commission on Wednesday postponed a decision about whether to impose higher health care costs on tens of thousands of Michigan government workers.

The commission met in Lansing to consider whether to accept wage increases and health benefit terms that an impasse panel had recommended. The commission decided to meet again Jan. 15 on the proposed two-year contracts and extended the union contracts that expired Dec. 15 until then.

Roughly 70 percent of Michigan's 47,000 state employees are unionized, and state employee unions took to the picket line in Lansing on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the proposal.

The impasse panel's recommendations came after unions and Gov. Rick Snyder's administration disagreed on wages and health benefits. The panel recommended a 2 percent wage increase and a 0.5 percent lump sum payment in 2014 and a 2 percent pay increase in 2015.

The contract also would raise co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums for health care.

Commissioners postponed the decision after they deadlocked 2-2 on an alternate proposal that would have maintained pay raises but rejected health care cuts for members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 125, the Lansing State Journal reported.

"We're treading on uncharted waters," said Commissioner Robert Swanson, an opponent of the health system changes. "I hope, given some time, the parties could try to reach something we could agree on."

United Auto Workers Vice President Cindy Estrada, leader of the coalition of state employee unions, called the decision a partial victory.

"It's a victory in the sense that we're being asked to go back to the table and take a look at these health care concerns," Estrada said. "It really creates distrust when you come after concessions during good times."

Among those picketing Wednesday outside the Capitol Commons Building was state police employee Carolyn Kowalik, 58, of Rapid City. She said the proposed health benefits cuts would make it harder for her to afford health care.

"My husband just had a stroke," the Rapids City woman told the newspaper. "He needs a lot of medications. If we move to the new health plan, it will break me."

"I believe if I have to pay more for health care, I'll have to cut back in other areas of my home, maybe food purchases," said another picket, Yvonne Cash. The 54-year-old is a caseworker in the Department of Human Services.

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