WOODMERE — Mayor Ben Holbert vetoed an ordinance that would establish premium co-pays for non-bargaining unit employees that use the village’s medical insurance plan. Up to now, employees made no contribution to the monthly premium payment for medical insurance, according to Village Benefits Coordinator Eric Hammond. The ordinance that council passed on Sept. 9 established a monthly premium co-pay of $100 for an individual and $200 for a family plan.

“It was a gut punch to the employees. You don’t do that to people,” Mayor Holbert said last week. “Give them the opportunity to make decisions for open enrollment. I don’t believe council did that. To have a meeting on Sept. 9 and have them make a contribution on Oct. 1 – I don’t think that was appropriate.”

On Monday, Law Director Frank Consolo said that he drafted the ordinance and chose $100 and $200 because they are average co-pay amounts according to the State Employment Relations Board. With collective bargaining negotiations beginning in several weeks with the Fraternal Order of Police, Mr. Consolo said that it would be easier to increase their co-pay amount if the village’s other non-bargaining unit employees are already at the same co-pay amount.

“[We could say] well the rest of the village employees are at 100/200, we think it’s only fair that that applies to the police,” he said.

The police union’s contract states that if non-bargaining unit employees are required to make a co-pay then police in the union would also be required to contribute to the premium up to $40 for an individual plan and $80 for a family plan. Mr. Consolo said that particular provision of the police contract dates back to 2010. The union contract that is currently in place expires at the end of 2020.

In his veto statement, Mayor Holbert said that this sudden change will burden the employees who utilize the medical insurance plan during a time that is already financially unstable, the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The decision to implement this deduction was not discussed with the workforce nor were staff given the opportunity to review the implications with a benefit specialist or human resource representative,” he wrote in the letter.

Mr. Hammond said that the quote from Anthem for medical insurance increased by 6.12 percent from last year. The Anthem plan is set to renew on Oct. 1, he said, giving employees about three weeks to determine if they would still like to use the village’s insurance plan.

Village employees presented a letter to council members on Monday to express their concerns about the change. The letter noted that council chose to suspend the rule of three readings and pass it after one reading. In addition, the employees wrote that bargaining unit employees were not included in the negotiations for insurance this year or the amended contributions. According to the letter, the passed legislation results in a 5-percent reduction in wages for affected employees.

“Proposing this legislation, without giving consideration as to how it would impact each employee during a pandemic and economic recession, is disheartening and egregious,” employees wrote in the letter.

Not all employees are opposed to making a contribution to the medical insurance, according to the letter, but the employees said that they have been treated with a “lack of respect and decency.”

Mayor Holbert held a staff meeting on Sept. 16 and informed village employees of the ordinance’s passage and his veto. Mr. Consolo said that the co-payments will begin whenever the ordinance becomes effective. As of Monday, council members did not meet to reconsider the ordinance. Councilwoman Lisa Brockwell, who chairs the Finance Committee, and Councilman Craig Wade did not return calls from the Times on Monday.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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