Need Surgery? Fasten Your Seat Belt
The rising cost of surgery is prompting US employers to send sick employees abroad for treatment. According to The LA Times, employers who fund their own health insurance plans are looking to save tens of thousands of dollars. Employees opt to go along with the program since they save thousands in deductibles and co-pays and often receive a share of the savings. The Times report cites Blue Ridge Paper Products of Canton, NC. The company recently sent an employee to India for gallstone removal and rotator cuff repair. Even after paying for airfare for the employee and his fiancee, the company saved $10,000. The firm, which employs 2000, has grown frustrated with the rising cost of care at its local hospital. Healthcare premiums have doubled for the company in the last five years to about $9500 per worker per year. "The hospitals have a monopoly. They don’t care, because where else are patients going to go?" complained benefits director Bonnie Blackley. "Well, we are going to go to India." Other companies are following suit. Arnold Milstein, chief physician at human resources consulting giant Mercer Health & Benefits, told the paper he had been hired by three Fortune 500 companies interested in contracting with offshore hospitals. US hospitals are understandably not pleased. "This is not the solution," warns California Hospital Association spokeswoman Jan Emerson. "In fact, this could make problems worse." Exporting the best-paying patients, she explains, "will only add to the woes of the entire healthcare system."
More Workers Staying Alive
Fewer California workers lost their lives on the job last year than in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 453 workers were killed on the job in 2005, compared to 467 in ’04. Transportation-related incidents lead the way (36 percent), followed by assaults and violent acts (19 percent), contact with objects or equipment (17 percent), falls (13 percent), exposure to harmful substances or environments (11 percent), and fires or explosions (3 percent).
On the Job Front
NATIONWIDE – President Bush is expected to sign new legislation designed to shore up pensions and retirement savings in America. Provisions of the new legislation call for tighter rules to ensure defined pension plans – the traditional programs that pay a set amount upon retirement – are fully funded. Many plans have filed for bankruptcy. Another provision encourages companies to automatically enroll employees in 401K plans. The legislation includes breaks for the airline industry, designed to forestall some airlines from terminating their pension plans . . . Not only does retail chain Macy’s want to be in the black, it wants all its employees to don the color. The all-black dress code is designed to help customers identify sales associates. Employees who have already invested in workday wardrobes are unhappy, however . . . Electronic Data Systems Corp, which handles data processing functions for public and private companies around the world, plans to eliminate 3000 to 4000 more jobs by December. EDS already laid off 1000 workers in the first half of 2006. The firm says the move will help it make revenue forecasts of $21.5 billion this year.
STATEWIDE – A proposed hike in the California minimum wage remains in limbo. Last week, the Wage Board, a 13-member body charged with evaluating minimum salaries in light of California’s high cost of living, deadlocked on increasing the wage from $6.75 to $9.78 an hour. The board was also unable to decide if future hikes should be automatically linked to cost-of-living increases, a point Governor Schwarzenegger opposes . . . Growers around the state are complaining that putting the National Guard at the border with Mexico has cut the number of farmworkers available to handle California’s imminent harvest. Some expect that 30 percent of the workforce will be missing . . . California employers are more concerned than the rest of the country with workplace diversity and work/life balance. So says a survey by MetLife, which found that in 2005, 37 percent of the state’s employers saw workforce diversity as a top priority, compared to 29 percent nationwide. A total of 58 percent of California employers were concerned about work/life balance, compared to 52 percent nationwide . . . Rent-A-Center will pay 6000 workers a total of $4.95 million to settle a lawsuit involving wage & hour laws in California. The plaintiffs alleged that Rent-A-Center had a policy of failing to pay overtime, failing to give employees required meal and rest breaks and mailing final paychecks late. Under the proposed settlement, Rent-A-Center would admit no liability.
BAY AREA – Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways plans to hire 180 employees locally to staff its flights between SF and Hong Kong. The airline is recruiting for a base manager, base administrative staff and flight attendants.
BURLINGAME – Valentis Inc, a local drug company, is selling its intellectual property and manufacturing rights to the UK’s Cobra Biologics. Twelve workers – 60 percent of the staff – will lose their jobs. Remaining workers will focus on selling the company’s remaining assets.
REDWOOD CITY – After losing $15.5 million in the second quarter, Threshold Pharmaceuticals Inc plans to fire 30 workers as it reduces its workforce by one third. The firm’s chief financial officer is also leaving.
SACRAMENTO – Siemens Transportation Systems plans to add more than 140 workers here. The company has hundreds of millions of dollars in orders for its light-rail cars being manufactured for cities around the world . . . Lumber Products of Oregon is expanding the staff at its newly purchased warehouse here. The operation added four staffers to the existing crew of 12 and plans to expand even further as it adds doors and other millwork to its offerings.
SAN FRANCISCO – The new Bloomingdale’s – rising out of the ashes of the former Emporium – is hiring hundreds. The store, scheduled to open next month, has reportedly hired half of its staffing goal of 536.
SANTA CLARA – Giant chip maker Intel will sell off a 600-worker division to Eicon Networks. The division deals with media and signaling, and the staff focuses on engineering, product testing and marketing. The companies said they expect a significant number of employees will be hired by the Plano, Texas firm. Eicon provides media processing hardware and software for voice, conferencing, VoIP, fax and IP . . . Sun Microsystems, maker of high-end computer servers, is implementing its previously announced restructuring plan by cutting 950 jobs. The company’s market share has been reduced as more businesses opt for less-expensive PC’s and servers.
SANTA CRUZ – Having sold off two of its most popular labels, Bonny Doon Vineyard is reducing its staff by a third, about 24 positions. Departing workers are receiving generous severances, including one month’s pay for every year of service, up to a total of 12 months.
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO – Biotech giant Genentech is looking for more lab space again. The firm is taking steps to almost double its already massive work space in South San Francisco. A company spokesperson says the firm is seeking permits for nearly 6 million square feet in anticipation of its staffing needs. The firm already maintains an aggressive recruiting program.