At its core, the IBEW/NECA Family
Medical Care Plan has a pretty simple mission –
to provide high-quality health insurance to IBEW members and their
families at the best possible price.
|Members working at the STP nuclear plant in Palacios, Texas, joined the IBEW/NECA Family Medical Care Plan in 2014, and leaders at Local 66 have been using the plan’s popularity to organize new members ever since.But in Texas, leaders at Houston Local 66 have found the FMCP to be much more than that, namely as an extraordinarily effective organizing tool.
The plan, which was started in 2006 primarily for construction locals, has expanded over the last 10 years to cover members working in multiple branches, including utilities, telecommunications and manufacturing. Today, it has more than 95,000 participants at 165 local unions, and the larger it grows, the greater the cost savings it is able to achieve.
FMCP Executive Director Larry Bradley takes great pride in the fact that, because FMCP operates without the need for profits, advertising or extensive overhead, in every local the plan is being used, it has been able to provide equal or better insurance than what the company was providing for the same or better cost.
“That puts money back on the bargaining table for locals and employers to fight over,” he said, “and that’s a good thing. We’ve got seven Fortune 500 companies who are participating in this plan now, and they’re not doing it because they love the IBEW. They’re doing it because it makes financial sense.”
That financial sense is what prompted Local 66 Business Manager Greg Lucero and executives at CenterPoint Energy to adopt the FMCP for active employees during contract talks in 2013. “I can’t say enough about how it’s changed things for the better,” Lucero said.
Making the switch saved the company almost $5 million a year for what turned out to be a much better health plan for members, he said, and everyone on both sides of the negotiating table walked away happy.
The plan was working so well, in fact, that the company and Local 66 agreed a year later to bring CenterPoint’s retirees into the FMCP as well, negotiating a 100 percent subsidy for the 1,400 current retirees and the future ones as well.
Shortly after CenterPoint’s active employees joined the FMCP at the start of 2014, Lucero brought the plan into contract negotiations with the STP nuclear plant southwest of Houston. The company’s 375 IBEW employees and another 60 or so retirees would be covered by FMCP starting in May. Lucero said even with the free retiree health care, the move still saved the company $250,000 annually.
But that wasn’t the only benefit.
In July, the plant’s reactor operators voted to join the union, enticed by the generous medical coverage the IBEW had been able to secure for its members.
By August, two more units – maintenance planners and chemistry department – had voted to join the union as well. In February 2015, STP’s metrology lab employees followed suit, and a little more than a year later, in May 2016, all four new units ratified their first contracts.
Last November, a fifth unit, the procedure writers, elected to join Local 66, adding another 13 members once they reach a first agreement, hopefully this summer. At least five other units at the nuclear plant have expressed interest in joining the IBEW, but official organizing campaigns haven’t yet been launched.
In all, nearly 100 new members have joined the union, bringing almost 50 percent of the nuclear plant’s employees into bargaining units.
“There is no doubt that the coverage provided by the FMCP and the 100 percent retiree subsidy has been a huge influence on groups interested in joining the union,” said STP bargaining unit member and Local 66 Executive Board Chairman Mark Griffin. “The company’s initial proposal was to drop retiree health care altogether and say ‘Good luck finding your own health insurance,’ but we fought for them, and the FMCP was the tool that made the numbers work.”
Even in right-to-work Texas, the local has maintained union membership near 90 percent in represented units at the nuclear plant, indicative of the value these brothers and sisters place on their involvement with the IBEW.
Lucero has his eye on the future, hoping to replicate the results he’s seen at STP at other plants his local represents. At NRG Energy in Houston, 600 Local 66 members came on to the FMCP health plan in January following contract negotiations. Six months in, he says, those members are happy with the new plan, and he’s hopeful that he’ll be able to work the FMCP into negotiations at Texas New Mexico Power as well, where workers voted to join the IBEW back in 2013.
“If I can get the Texas New Mexico folks on FMCP, I’m confident we’ll grow our membership numbers there too,” Lucero said. “There’s no doubt in my mind we’re organizing these units because of FMCP.”
Other utility locals have had success with the FMCP as well, including members at Detroit Local 17 working for the Thumb Electrical Cooperative.
“We look at FMCP every chance we have,” said Local 17 Business Manager Dean Bradley, who was able to secure solid annual raises four years in a row for members at Thumb thanks to FMCP savings. “Any business manager not looking into using the plan in negotiations is making a mistake.”
International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper, who serves on the board of the FMCP, says he too encourages all locals to inquire about using the union-backed plan in any situation where it might be a good fit for members.
“This plan is focused on providing quality health care to IBEW members across the U.S., not on making profits or lining the pockets of shareholders,” Cooper said. “When I hear that it’s having positive effects in organizing new members, well, that’s just a sign to me that what we’re offering has real value to the people it serves, and that’s an incredibly positive thing.”
Local unions interested in finding out more about how to get an FMCP quote for members should contact the FMCP at (301) 556-4300 or visit www.nebf.com/fmcp.