AEA Sues PEEHIP Over Plan Increases
After the Public Employees Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP) Board met and conducted business in secret on April 27, 2016, the Alabama Education Association filed a lawsuit against the Board for violating the Open Meetings Act. On Tuesday, May 17, AEA held a press conference and received wide media coverage throughout the state regarding the matter.
The lawsuit was prompted when the PEEHIP Board gave public notice that their April 27 meeting would start at 1:00 p.m.; however, PEEHIP staff held a secret “meeting before the meeting” of the Board that began at 9:30 a.m. AEA staff became aware the meeting was taking place and asked to attend, but were denied the opportunity. Neither the general public nor the media were notified of this meeting.
At this secret meeting, PEEHIP staff unveiled their plan to raise rates on educators, stripping some, and in some cases all, of the pay raise educators had just received from the Legislature less than a week prior – the first pay raise for educators in nine years that was not offset by increased out-of-pocket retirement contributions. Even worse, not having seen a cost-of-living adjustment in nine long years, retirees’ pension checks were effectively slashed by the PEEHIP Board.
The formal meeting that occurred at the scheduled hour was merely a continuation of the illegal meeting, as most of the debate and discussion regarding the Board’s action had already taken place and the fix was in. A narrow 7-6 majority of the Board voted to raise insurance premiums on educators and retirees.
The Plaintiff in the case, AEA President Sheila Hocutt Remington, is seeking relief on behalf of all PEEHIP participants. “As a 43-year veteran classroom teacher of government and civics, I have always told my students that sunshine is the best disinfectant. That is why we have sunshine laws for open records and open meetings. These ‘meetings before the meeting’ are designed to avoid dissent and to silence any voices calling for alternatives. It is my hope that this never happens again and discussions that impact the pocketbooks of tens of thousands of educators will be held as they should be – in open, public sessions,” said Remington.
PEEHIP Board Chairwoman Sarah Swindle agreed there was a prior meeting in which only members of the Board were notified. She said, “It was not a business meeting. We were told by our legal staff that we could not debate and we could not vote. We could not do a straw vote either.”
Educators, and particularly retired educators, are outraged and perplexed by this decision in particular because PEEHIP staff only asked the Legislature for an increase of $23 million knowing full well that an additional $141 million shortfall was going to fall on the members.
“Educators were very appreciative of the 4% raise the Legislature provided – the first in nine years. For the PEEHIP Board to come behind the Legislature, especially after the Legislature fully funded PEEHIP’s budget request, and take away most, if not all, of the raise, is fundamentally wrong,” said Remington.
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