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Ridgewood District Custodians Plead for Family Health Insurance

Superintendent Daniel Fishbein says district can't intercede on privately-negotiated contracts.

Despite a hopeful appeal to the Ridgewood district to help them procure family health insurance, custodians in the village are likely to be left out in the cold for at least another year.

Custodian Ashton Murray, a worker with contractor GCA Services Group, told the Ridgewood school board Monday that according to the worker agreement with GCA, if the district provided enough capital in the current year's budget GCA employees could receive family health insurance.

School officials say the agreement GCA signed with its workers in 2009 is a private matter and they cannot "arbitrarily increase the fee" on the contract. The district will go out to bid on a new deal in July of 2013.

It's a hard reality for custodians to swallow.

Not having family health insurance has become a burden, financially and emotionally for Oralie Edwards, 63, and his family.

His wife, a part-time nanny, is without insurance, as is his 24-year-old son.

"It could be the worst of the worst," Edwards said. "If she gets hospitalized...we only have half coverage. It scares me. If she gets sick, I cannot afford it. And my son too – he doesn't have insurance." 

Edwards pays $325 a month for his individual plan, which doesn't cover prescriptions or the needs of his family. To go it alone with full family coverage, he said he'd have to pay $500 a month, a price he can't afford.

"We don't have that kind of money," he said. Edwards says he makes $12.85 an hour and works 40 hours a week at GCA. 

"We'd like to get this insurance as soon as possible. As far as I understand, [GCA says] they don't have the money for that coverage; they say it will cost them half-a-million."

Were the board to open up the contract, it's possible other bidders who lost out could initiate legal action on the grounds the terms of the deal changed, according to school officials.

All of this means one thing — GCA workers will have to go it alone to procure family coverage.

Edwards' frustration extends beyond just the company's apparent refusal to provide for greater care.

"We were better off before the union," said Edwards, who's worked as a custodian in Ridgewood for 11 years and became unionized two years ago. "My wife had insurance and we didn't have to struggle to pay for medication. I didn't want to join the union but my boss said to me if I don't join the union, I can't work."

Not working was not an acceptable choice, he said.

The custodian also works at King's Supermarket in the village to help make ends meet but with limited work hours and East Ridgewood Avenue rent needing be paid, it just isn't enough.

Though he's thankful his wife has not needed to visit the hospital — where costs can mount in the thousands for simple medical attention — Edwards says a doctor visit with a prescription will cost him anywhere between $200-400 out of pocket.

"It stresses me," he told Patch. "I try not to think about it but when the circumstances arise, I do. Because I'm under pressure having two jobs to meet demands, I have much time to think about it."

Phoebe Schell, a Service Employees International Union Local (SEIU) 32 union rep, said the union has been negotiating with GCA Services to no avail.

Calls to the custodial company's corporate office were not returned.

GCA, employs over 30,000 workers nationwide and claimed over $700 million in revenue last year, according to the company's website. 

"If you're in this country, there are serious problems when you're without health insurance," Edwards said. "But what am I going to do?"

Ridgewood Mom September 03, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Happy LABOR day everyone!
Harlan Consider September 03, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Moistcake: That so-called budget surplus never really existed. It was the result of a lot of very creative accounting that measured in projected revenues and a raiding of the Social Security Fund. Clinton was also probably the luckiest President of the modern era, whereupon he no longer had to fund the Cold War effort and Islamic terrorism had not developed into the global threat we have today. I could go on talking about the BS dot.com economy of that time, but I suspect you have your mind made up and would rather not let facts muddy it up.
USAUSA September 03, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Cake, cake, cake...Why would you vote for a President that believed national Obama Care was more important than a slumping economy and the creation of jobs while he had a Democratic house? In fact it was this useless healthcare plan which helped him lose the house to the Republicans. Healthcare is extremely important yes but not at the cost to millions and millions of americans who were out of work then and are out of work now! If you would like to live in a country with national healthcare and think Costa Rica is sooooo great, please move there, you will be missed!
John Johnson September 05, 2012 at 03:44 PM
FROM THE GCA Services Group WEBSITE Employee Benefits GCA Services Group prides itself on its ability to attract and retain the best people. Every employee is an important asset and central to our success. We strive to ensure that GCA is an appealing place to work. We offer an array of employee benefits programs designed to encourage, enrich, and promote employee health and well-being. Our comprehensive benefits package includes(*): Life Insurance Long-term Disability Short-term Disability Medical Insurance Dental Insurance Vision Plan 401(k) Vacation Time Paid Holiday Time Sick Time (*) Eligibility for benefits will vary based upon job responsibilities, job classification, and location.
Ridgewood Mom September 05, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Very interesting John.

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