Union officials: Health care costs are driving talent out of Dartmouth

May 22, 2018

Rising health care costs are hurting Dartmouth’s municipal employees and even forcing them out of town employment, according to the heads of two unions who want to see change.

Speaking at the May 21 Select Board meeting, Renee Vieira from the Dartmouth Educators Association and Susan Pierce from the Dartmouth Town Employees Association detailed how a 12 percent increase in health care costs this year are affecting Dartmouth’s teachers, school staff, and municipal employees.

Pierce said municipal employees’ cost of living salary increases come nowhere near matching the increase in health insurance costs. The average town employee makes $45,000 a year but pays $15,000 in health care costs, she said, adding the 52-48 percent ratio between what the town and employees cover is not fair enough to make sense for employees.

“Many quality candidates pass on the opportunity to work for the town when they become aware of the cost of our health care,” Pierce said.

She added with long-term employees retiring and the workforce skewing younger, many of those younger employees could leave in search of jobs with better benefit packages, leading to high turnover.

She asked the Select Board to raise the ratio of what the town pays for employee health care coverage.

Vieira said while a new high deductible plan has helped some school system staff, it has not helped those on the lower end of the salary spectrum and new employees. She said some of the employees she represents make between $16,000 and $23,000 a year, and see most of their paychecks go towards health care.

“As town employees as well as employees of the school district, we’re losing people every year,” Vieira said.

She said the percentage of health care costs paid by the town is one of the lowest in the region.

Select Board Chair Shawn McDonald said he would be supportive of increasing the ratio and exploring other ideas like plan, deductible, and other changes.

“I don’t have a problem with an increase in the ratio, I’ve never had a problem with that, I just don’t want to see it become where the increase of the ratio becomes a detriment to us,” McDonald said. “I don’t want to see us losing anybody because we had to make the budget meet the increase.”

Member David Tatelbaum suggested doing more research to come up with more choices, noting in the past when faced with a big increase staff managed to find a program which worked.