Here is interesting news from the Board of Directors of our health plan; this board, established under Mayor Tanner, is comprised of representatives from our major three unions, and our City’s chief executive officer (who sent this email in response to campaign news about domestic partners)
From: “Jay Covington”
To: “Daniel Clawson”
Subject: Renton Reporter Article on Employee Benefits “defining marriage”
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 17:19:58 -0700
I’m sure you all read with interest today’s article in the Renton Reporter regarding local campaign races, financing of those campaigns, and–in particular–the headline that states” City Council wouldn’t vote on defining marriage” (page 7 of the Oct 31st edition). I understand some of you have been asked about the issue of extending benefits to same-sex partners, and other related issues. I’m not sure how or why the issue of whether you all would have a voice in defining marriage has become a campaign issue, but since the issue has come up, let me add a little to the comments attributed to Mike Webby in the article.
First, as you recall, as part of our labor negotiations in 2003, the city and its unions agreed to transfer the governance and management of the city’s employee benefit plan to a Board of directors, which consists of the three union presidents, and me. The labor agreements authorize the Board to make plan design “changes in the program from time to time without further concurrence from their membership or the City Council” (language from 2170 and Local 864 contracts; Police guild language is slightly different, but also binds the union membership to Board decisions). We agreed to this as part of a package that set a cap on the financial amount the City would contribute to medical benefits, and would create an incentive for the City, Union leadership, and city employees to use the plan in more cost effective ways. All five bargaining units continued the arrangement as part of their 2006-2008 labor agreements.
You have been briefed before on the cost savings and better plan usage and coverage that have resulted in this combination of management oversight and financial responsibility. Renton’s medical plan has consistently had a lower rate of increase in costs than the industry average since we moved to this combined management/combined financial obligation agreement. Literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs have been avoided, with actual savings being held in the medical plan fund balance reserves as a hedge against future cost increases. City taxpayers and city employees have all benefitted.
So . . . to today’s headline. Earlier this year, the question of whether to extend health benefits to domestic partners was raised at Health Care Board meetings. The Board discussed and debated this issue in terms of fairness and equity of benefits to employees, potential cost impacts to the plan, recent changes in how the State treats domestic partner benefit issues and coverage, whether any liability extends from the State to the City, what the experience has been from other local governments who have implemented/extended benefits, additional costs from extending benefits, and what if any potential liability might arise if Renton’s current plan was challenged as discriminatory (similar to the challenge against the City of Bellevue’s plan). After considerable discussion, the Health Board decided that–beginning in 2008–health benefits would be extended to qualified domestic partners of city employees. The Board tasked HR staff and our consultant with developing an appropriate way to determine domestic partner status. This benefit would be extended to both same-sex and heterosexual couples.
Feel free to contact either Mike Webby or me if you have questions,