Benefits constitute a significant part of our total compensation. Any change to our benefits plan represents a change in compensation. Some changes can help our members — such as the recent move to cover massage therapy without a doctor’s referral. But others may have a negative impact — such as when UBC in 2018 signed on to the FACET Prior Authorization Drug Program, which requires pre-approval for specialty drugs (including for conditions like multiple sclerosis or cancer) or prescriptions which cost more than $5000/year. The FACET program is explicitly intended to save UBC and SunLife money, and it can make it difficult for us to obtain drugs as prescribed by our doctors and/or increase the cost, potentially significantly, of accessing necessary care for ourselves and our family members. This recent history of changes to our benefit plan without consultation or consent has shown us that bargaining for increased benefits is of little value when there is nothing to prevent the employer or benefits carrier from changing the specifics of our coverage.
No other aspect of our compensation is vulnerable to these kinds of changes — the employer may increase a member’s salary via retention funds, but they cannot decrease a member’s salary. Currently, however, they can reduce our overall compensation through changes to our benefits plan. To address this very serious problem, the Faculty Association has proposed that FA approval be required for any changes to our benefits plan.
Furthermore, although benefits are an integral part of our total compensation, not all employees receive equal benefits. Members who continue working past the age of 71 lose benefit plan coverage, which means they are receiving less in compensation than their colleagues for the same work. It is the FA’s view that benefits should not be limited by age, with reasonable exceptions like the IRP, and we have tabled a proposal requesting that principle be part of our Collective Agreement.
For some of our members it is not an issue of unequal provision of benefits, but the security of having access to benefits at all. Reduced benefit coverage is yet another aspect of the precarity of sessional employment at UBC. In any given term, over half of our Sessional Lecturer colleagues must pay half of the premium costs of medical and dental coverage, and if they cannot afford to do so, have no health benefits coverage at all. The FA has proposed that full benefits be provided for all sessional members.
While the value and constancy of our benefits impacts all members and is therefore a high priority for the FA Bargaining Team, we also recognize that there are other benefit issues which impact a relatively small number of our colleagues, but which are extremely important. To this end we have put proposed to provide coverage for fertility treatments for our members. We do not think our members should have to use all of their life-savings to start a family. We have also proposed that our benefits package be expanded to include gender affirmation treatments not currently covered by MSP. These equity proposals recognize that such benefits provide important inclusive supports for all of us.
We encourage members to be aware of the specifics of their benefit coverage, especially the new Health Spending Account benefit which we successfully negotiated in 2019. The HSA provides $200 each year which can be claimed for reimbursement of an extended-health costs, for either the member or the member’s dependents, that have not already been reimbursed under the Extended Health Benefits Plan or Dental Plan. This effectively provides additional coverage in the areas of need for members based on individual circumstances, be it additional coverage for mental health supports or the extra cost of bifocal glasses. Recognizing that $200 is a drop in the bucket for many members whose needs exceed the coverage provided by our benefits plan, we have proposed in this round that the HSA amount be increased to $400 per year.
Because support for our health and wellbeing is not only part of our compensation but a necessary prerequisite for our thriving at UBC, we think these benefits are of mutual interest to all of us who work here.