WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — A town hall got heated Wednesday as Purdue's Chief Financial Officer answered some questions about healthcare changes. Some said unionizing may be their best option.
"The thing I've heard a lot inside the last couple of weeks from almost everyone I've talked to is unionizing, collective bargaining power," said Robyn Malo.
She got 77 letters from the Purdue English Department complaining about the University's new healthcare benefit changes. She's the department's Senator and is disappointed in Purdue's transparency.
"We're not consulted about virtually any major decision that affects the entire campus," said Malo.
Purdue CFO Bill Sullivan doesn't agree. That's why he came to the town hall.
"We're all about transparency, despite what some people in the crowd today don't think is very transparent," said Sullivan.
Sullivan explained why the University needs to do things like increase premiums by six percent.
"If you look over the last five years, the employee share of the cost has remained essentially flat whereas the university share of the cost has increased substantially," said Sullivan.
Purdue said its employees' annual premium averages $1,500 less than local employers. But many in the audience didn't feel that's a fair comparison. They want Purdue to look at other Big Ten University healthcare plans.
"If we are not comparing to our peer institutions, the very people who would employ many of us, should we choose to leave, then Purdue is essentially knee-capping itself in terms of maintaining faculty and staff morale, in terms of retaining and recruiting," said Malo.
Sullivan said the comparison to local employers is fair due to the number of staff not directly related to higher education. There are 12,000 employees at Purdue, 9,000 are staff and 3,000 are faculty.
"And that's why the numbers I put up today referenced the local economy," said Sullivan.
Some asked if unfreezing tuition might help with healthcare costs.
"I'm not going to touch on freezing tuition," said Sullivan. "I think there's a lot of different things we should look at."
He said they will look at other options, especially what to do about working spousal benefits. Malo hopes they are more inclusive this time.
"It's time for us to have a serious conversation about what we want this university to look like," said Malo. "It could be so much better than it is, it doesn't have to be a place that is depressing to work at and it's sometimes depressing to work at because it feels like it is bad thing after cut after cut."
Sullivan said any heathcare decisions made would not go into effect until January of 2020.