Union rallies against termination of dependent health-care coverage

Mitzi Perez/Staff

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Graduate students and members of a universitywide student-worker union rallied Friday to protest the termination of health insurance coverage for dependents of UC Berkeley students.

Members of United Auto Workers Local 2865 and supporters congregated at the Tang Center to hear speeches from impacted students and a faculty representative before marching through Sproul Plaza. UAW 2865 members also met with representatives from the UC Office of the President and University Health Services in Oakland on Friday to discuss the cuts to UC Berkeley’s Student Health Insurance Plan, or SHIP, according to a press release.

About 200 dependents currently get their insurance through SHIP, but now have to look for other insurance options before the coverage expires Aug. 15. Students at the rally said that other health care plans available to their dependents can be more expensive or do not provide the same quality of service as SHIP.

Claudia Covello, executive director of UHS, said that the cuts were necessary to keep costs low for all students. According to Covello, data analysis by UHS shows that users of the dependent plan take out approximately twice as much in medical claims as they pay, leaving other users of SHIP to recoup the costs.

“Forty percent of Berkeley students are low income,” Covello said, “and for the greater good we need to keep the SHIP plan as affordable as possible.”

Union members also circulated an online petition to reverse the decision and to request a meeting with campus officials, who have been “not really willing to talk,” said Seth Leibson, an incoming third-year graduate student and head steward of UAW 2865. The petition has more than 1,600 signatures.

Michael Burawoy, a professor of sociology at UC Berkeley, spoke at the rally as a representative of the Berkeley Faculty Association. According to Burawoy, faculty members are concerned that the decision will make it harder for the campus to recruit graduate students.

“This could be one of the factors that students will weigh when they decide to come here rather than Princeton or Harvard or Wisconsin or Chicago,” four schools that offer health insurance plans for dependents, Burawoy said.

UAW 2865 filed a grievance against the university in May for allegedly violating its contract by failing to inform the union of the change in coverage, and for discriminating based on pregnancy, childbirth, marital status and citizenship.

Union representatives will meet with the university June 23 to discuss the grievance and possible solutions. According to Beezer de Martelly, steward of UAW 2865, the union will discuss the possibility of insuring dependents through the general UCSHIP, which covers most other UC campuses, in the coming academic year.

According to de Martelly, the union is currently doing research on the general functioning of health care at UC Berkeley and hopes to produce a document in the coming weeks that will help the union decide whether or not to take legal action against the campus.

Contact Mira Chaplin at [email protected].