Chicago Sun-Times - - BUSINESS - BY FRAN SPIEL­MAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@suntimes.com | @fspiel­man

Even with a loom­ing, $1 bil­lion spike in pen­sion pay­ments, may­oral can­di­dates Paul Val­las and Garry McCarthy have promised to re­store the 55 per­cent re­tiree health care sub­sidy abol­ished by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Trade union lead­ers are not about to hold their breath.

They’ve formed a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion with po­ten­tial to save 7,000 re­tirees who draw their ben­e­fits from the Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees and La­bor­ers pen­sion funds up to $10 mil­lion a year.

It’s called the La­bor­ers Ben­e­fits As­so­ci­a­tion.

It will of­fer both a Medi­care plan and a non-Medi­care plan as well as a “Part B Waiver Plan” that, in con­junc­tion with Medi­care Part B, will al­low re­tirees 65 and over not el­i­gi­ble for Medi­care to get full cov­er­age at a monthly cost nearly $1,500 be­low the city­of­fered, Blue Cross-Blue Shield plan.

“Next year, the [city] plan is gonna be, on the Medi­care side, $99 more a month and, on the non-Medi­care side, over $500 more a month,” said Joe Healey, busi­ness man­ager of La­bor­ers Lo­cal 1092.

“By chang­ing to the Aetna plan, th­ese re­tirees are each gonna save over $1,000 a year. If they don’t have Medi­care, they’re gonna save over $5,000 a year. That’s money in their pocket . . . . The to­tal sav­ings could be $10 mil­lion a year.”

Val­las has promised to re­store the re­tiree health care sub­sidy and make the spe­cific amount the “prod­uct of strate­gic bar­gain­ing” with union lead­ers.

He has ar­gued that there are “mul­ti­ple path­ways for pro­vid­ing a sub­sidy that will not im­pose a per­ma­nent, long-term fund­ing man­date on the city.”

Those pos­si­bil­i­ties in­clude di­vert­ing “a por­tion of the salary in­crease in the next con­tract” to fund re­tiree health care and re­quir­ing a “small an­nual con­tri­bu­tion from ac­tive em­ploy­ees, which could be tied to in­come,” Val­las has said.

In late Septem­ber, McCarthy showed up at a jam-packed Da­ley Cen­ter court­room to show his sup­port for for­mer city em­ploy­ees fight­ing to re­store the 55 per­cent re­tiree health care sub­sidy that Emanuel abol­ished.

With­out of­fer­ing specifics, McCarthy has promised to find the $130 mil­lion a year needed to re­store the sub­sidy for re­tirees, 10,000 of whom started work­ing for the city prior to April 1, 1986, and, there­fore, are not el­i­gi­ble for Medi­care.

On Fri­day, Healy was re­al­is­tic about the cam­paign prom­ises.

“I’m anx­ious to see some of the plans and the fund­ing mech­a­nisms that some of the can­di­dates have in­di­cated would be nec­es­sary,” Healy said.

“We plan to con­tinue this [al­ter­na­tive] plan as long as it’s bet­ter than any op­tion the city is of­fer­ing . . . . I’m not op­ti­mistic . . . . It’s not just the pen­sion cri­sis. The city has a lot of fi­nan­cial is­sues to deal with. We want to make sure re­tirees don’t fall be­hind [those] other is­sues.”

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