The Niagara County Community College board of trustees ratified a new contract with the college’s faculty Wednesday that gives the members hefty back pay but also requires them to begin paying toward their health insurance premiums.
NCCC President James P. Klyczek said the college anticipates major savings in future years as the health insurance changes come online. Much of the future savings will come from reducing benefits for retirees.
Also, the union gave up coverage for elective cosmetic surgery, Faculty Association President Joseph Colosi said.
The contract is retroactive to Sept. 1, 2006, the day after the faculty’s last union contract expired. Since then, two state mediators and a state fact-finder failed to bring the sides to an agreement, while the board insisted on concessions.
“I commend this board and previous boards for having a vision and sticking to that vision,” Chairman Malcolm A. Needler said. “I think it puts us on a good track for the future.”
The contract is for nine years, but since eight of the years are retroactive, the deal runs out Aug. 31, 2015. “We’ll be negotiating again in March,” said Colosi, a counselor who works 12 months a year.
But for now, the college owes the 160 members of the faculty association $6.8 million in retroactive pay raises dating from 2006. Klyczek said the average check will be about $36,000. The $6.8 million figure also includes Social Security and pension fund payments the college must make on the back pay.
The complicated deal includes retroactive raises of 13.5 percent, which are applied to the pay scale, and retroactive bonuses of 4.12 percent, Klyczek said. The college counts annual increments that averaged 1.7 percent as part of the retroactive pay calculation, but that money already was paid each year since 2006.
“We’re only talking about a 13 percent increase in wages over nine years. That comes out to less than 2 percent a year. That’s very reasonable,” Colosi said. “There’s going to be savings of millions of dollars going forward.”
For 2014-15, the only raise will be a 0.62 percent bonus, Colosi said.
Colosi said union members who have left NCCC since 2006 will not receive retroactive checks. But when they reach age 65, they will not be forced into a Medicare Advantage insurance plan, as future retirees will be.
That costs the college $15,000 to $17,000 less per year for each retiree than the traditional BlueCross BlueShield plan they now have, Klyczek said. Current retirees may keep that plan, although the college will reduce its reimbursement for Part B prescription drug coverage. Future retirees will not be allowed the traditional coverage.
Active employees will continue to be able to choose between the traditional Blue policy and a cheaper point-of-service plan. Klyczek said the college will offer to pay $8,000 to each member who opts out of traditional Blue. New hires will have to take the point-of-service plan, which is $5,000 to $6,000 cheaper for family coverage than traditional Blue, Colosi said.
Also, active employees will begin to pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums. Up to now, faculty members paid only a share of the Blues’ annual premium increase.
“The faculty is sensitive to the fact we’re in tough times, and we wanted to do our part,” Colosi said.
Colosi said the union surrendered the cosmetic surgery rider because of “the political atmosphere in the county. Any unit that had it was under fire.”
Klyczek was unable to provide a figure on how much abolition of the cosmetic surgery rider would save.
The new contract takes starting pay for a full-time faculty member from $41,500 to about $47,000, Colosi said. Top pay will rise from $87,000 to about $98,000.
The trustees voted, 6-1, with one abstention to approve the contract Wednesday morning. The union vote Tuesday was 123-13 in favor, said David M. Nemi, union vice president.
The practice of requiring at least 20 union members to be promoted each year is ending. Klyczek said, “The promotions will be based on merit rather than a contractual minimum.”
“The expectation is there will be five promotions a year,” said Nemi, a marketing professor who is also vice president of the Lockport Board of Education.
Bonnie R. Sloma was the only trustee to vote against the contract. Besides objecting to the size of the retroactive pay, she said the contract forces the college’s base budget up by about $1.8 million a year. Klyczek said he believes that the number is between $1.6 million and $1.7 million.
Sloma said, “It’s more than I can bear, it’s more than the college can bear, and it’s more than our taxpayers can bear. … I don’t think it’s prudent.”
Another trustee, County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, abstained because the county’s own unions haven’t obtained new contracts since their deals ran out at the end of 2011.
“In good conscience,” Ross said, “I could not vote for this contract until our six bargaining units have new contracts.”