Members of AFSCME Maryland said yesterday that any efforts to cut retiree health care benefits would harm efforts to recruit and retain state employees.
"This is not the time to make our work less desirable," said Flo Jones, a foster care social worker for the Baltimore Department of Social Services and recording secretary of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 112. "We need to work to attract and keep staff, not drive them off. Taking away our retiree health care will do just that."
About 25 AFSCME members and retirees gathered for a news conference in Annapolis, which was held just before a meeting of a state commission that is studying retiree health care funding options.
Formed by the legislature last year, the Blue Ribbon Commission to Study Retiree Health Care Funding Options is to complete a report by December next year.
States were required in the fiscal year that began July 1 to list on their balance sheets the value of health care benefits they have promised to retirees, similar to how they account for pension benefits. Actuaries hired by the state have estimated the unfunded liability at $14 billion to $20 billion.
The General Assembly set aside an additional $200 million over the past two years toward the unfunded liability. The blue-ribbon commission is charged with making recommendations to further address the problem.
Legislators need to look more closely at how quickly health-care benefits are expanding for state employees, said Randall J. May, president of the Free State Foundation, a conservative think tank.
"It's a problem that should not be continually deferred into the future," May said.
AFSCME members urged legislators yesterday to not cut benefits to reduce the state's liability.
Mo Said, a direct care assistant at Springfield Hospital Center, said new employees increasingly stay for training and certification, and then leave for "better-paying, less-demanding jobs" at hospitals and assisted-living facilities.
AFSCME's news conference ended after about five minutes when a sergeant with the state Department of General Services Police arrived, saying that union members needed to request space in advance to hold an event.
"You can't just show up with signs," Sgt. Arnold K. Bell told the AFSCME members, who then walked into the House Office Building to attend the commission meeting.