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OU faculty, staff senates oppose changes to university healthcare benefits

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Evans Hall (copy)

Exterior of Evans Hall Oct. 31, 2019.

The OU-Norman campus faculty and staff senates expressed dissatisfaction with potential changes to employee benefits at their respective meetings this week.

The department of Human Resources gave a presentation during both meetings to introduce potential changes to employee benefits, currently set to take effect in 2021 and 2022.

With the current plan, employees who fall into the lower-income tiers have a lower employee share for medical insurance. The new plan would maintain the same employee share across the board, meaning the highest-paid employees will pay the same amount as the lowest-paid employees.  

Currently, the Norman campus uses a six-tier design plan for medical benefits, and the Health Sciences Center has a three-tier structure. Pending the Board of Regents’ approval, both campuses will operate on a three-tier plan by 2021 and eventually move down to a one-tier system in 2022.

According to the presentation, all employees would pay the same amount for healthcare regardless of their income once the one-tier structure is in place. 

The proposed changes were met with opposition from the faculty and staff senates, with members expressing concern the changes offer the same benefits to all employees that have the same plan, regardless of their needs or income. 

“This is a race for equality that actually erases equity across the board,” said Anthony Natale, associate professor representing the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work. 

After several members echoed these concerns, the faculty senate unanimously approved a resolution strongly opposing the proposed changes.

The faculty senate resolution reads, “The OU-NC Faculty Senate strongly objects, based on equity concerns, to the proposed changes to faculty and staff benefits that ultimately would result in a one-tier system by 2022. The abandonment of the six-tier system adversely impacts those with the lowest salary at OU. We ask the administration to reconsider these changes and seek wider input from the OU community.”

Members of the staff senate passed a resolution supporting the faculty senate resolution during their Wednesday meeting. 

During discussions about the resolution during the staff senate meeting, Angela Church, senior associate vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer, offered clarification for the reasoning behind the proposed changes. 

Church said the changes are being used by the university as a recruiting tool.  Because of the way the current system is structured, new employees would end up paying more at OU than they would at other institutions. 

“One of the big things that ... we’re looking for is to recruit people from other places,” Church said. “Our benefit structure and the way that we pay for that is really outside of the market.”

Staff senate chair Crystal Ary expressed her concern about this reasoning. 

“What I just heard you say is, ‘The people you are recruiting in … are more important than the people that you already have,'” Ary said. 

Church responded by saying her comments were taken out of context by Ary. 

The university is also recommending a change in both vision and dental providers. Pending the Board of Regents’ approval, dental care will move to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, and vision care will move to MetLife.

The faculty senate also introduced its 17 new members at its meeting and announced the election of Rick Tepker, the Floyd and Irma Calvert Chair of Law and Liberty Professor of Law, as the Parliamentarian of the faculty senate and regular faculty.

The senate also reported the July 19 death of retired faculty member Jimmie P. Artman. 

The faculty senate will meet at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 12 and the staff senate will meet Oct. 21, both via Zoom. 

senior news reporter

Jordan Hayden is a journalism junior and a senior news reporter at The Daily. Previously she served as the fall 2018 and spring 2019 assistant engagement editor.

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