Friday, September 17, 2004

1-day walkout may be voted

Teachers protest health benefits

By Karen Gutierrez
Enquirer staff writer

Kentucky teachers expect to hear late today whether their state union will call for a one-day walkout to protest cuts in health insurance benefits.

In Northern Kentucky, union representatives have been polling teachers on whether they would support such a protest.

Some of the results:

• Out of 630 teachers and support staff who responded to a poll in Kenton County, just over 58 percent were in favor of a walkout.

• In the Boone County School District, about 1,000 staff members returned surveys, with 65 to 75 percent in favor of walkout..

• At Campbell County High, 42 teachers said they would support a walkout and 18 were against.

Teachers "know they have to do something," said Bev Johnson, president of the Kenton County Education Association. "They are angry. One illness could put them into financial crisis."

Johnson worries, however, about the large number of employees who didn't respond. The 369 in Kenton who favored a protest represent a fraction of the district's total.

Johnson said she opposes a walkout.

Such an action would punish school districts that have no control over health insurance.

"My opinion is there should be strong political action to get some of these people who are not in support of education - some of these legislators - out," she said.

Strikes by public employees are illegal in Kentucky. But a one-day walkout is different. Teachers could take a personal day off to participate, or districts might close schools on that day and ask teachers to make it up later.

What's prompted teachers to consider action is a cost-cutting move by Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who has said his administration inherited an "unsustainable mess" in health insurance.

Without changes, state employees would have faced a 25 percent increase in premium costs, Fletcher said. Under his plan, premiums will go up by about 7 percent, and employees will face higher out-of-pocket costs for medical expenses.

State workers earning $36,000 to $44,000 a year would pay about $490 a month for family coverage, and their maximum out-of-pocket expenses would be $4,000 a year.

The Kentucky Education Association's board meets at 8 p.m. today in Frankfort. It will vote either tonight or tomorrow on whether to call for a statewide walkout.

The Jefferson County Education Association already has voted to have such a protest Sept. 30.


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