The Tribune, via consultant Mercer, sent an audit to LAT employees asking them to send verification that the people listed as dependents for benefits really are dependents. If they didn’t by the middle of this month, those dependents would be dropped.
The results have been a giant time-suck, not to mention insulting (and somewhat panic-inducing), as this letter from Sacto reporter Jordan Rau to Luis Lewin, Tribune’s senior vice president for human resources shows:
I am one of the employees at the Los Angeles Times who has been told to provide Mercer with proof that the dependents who receive benefits through the company are not fictitious. Last week I faxed off the information to Mercer with a request that they confirm receipt via email, but so far I have heard nothing from them, even after sending by express mail the paperwork to them as well.
Since the audit threatens us with the automatic loss of our health care coverage with a fraud-until-proven-innocent approach, I am requesting that you instruct Mercer to (1) confirm in writing to each audited employee that their paperwork has been received, and (2) notify each audited employee in writing whether our relatives have been judged valid or phantoms, so that if Mercer makes an error I have time to correct it before they boot my wife and 20-month-old son off of our health care coverage.
Given the time, trouble and insult this exercise has put all of us through, I would also like to know how many ghost dependents this audit and the previous one end up discovering here at the Times, and whether the savings Tribune-wide are greater than the consulting fees Tribune is paying Mercer. Since Tribune’s corporate values include Employee Involvement and Teamwork, such an action would be perfectly consistent with this audit’s respectful skepticism of our integrity (which, when capitalized, is also a Tribune value).
And here is the follow Rau sent out to Lewin yesterday:
I am writing to follow up on an email I sent you on Sept. 21 complaining about the Mercer dependent audit. As I’m sure you recall, I wrote to ask that you instruct Mercer to confirm receipt of the information proving that my alleged wife and reputed 20-month-old son do in fact exist and deserve to remain on the Tribune health insurance plan.
Upon return from work last evening, I received a letter from Mercer entitled “2nd Notice: Immediate Action Required.” The notice again threatened that unless I sent in the requested documentation by Oct. 5, health coverage for my wife and son “will end.” The letter was postmarked Sept. 20, which was 13 days after I sent by express mail the required forms, and 10 days after an employee of Mercer signed the return receipt.
Needless to say, I was quite disturbed and left a lengthy, unhappy email on the company’s line. In a conversation this morning, a company vice president admitted that they received my paperwork and sent me a confirmation email that my documentation of dependents has been confirmed. This is good news for them because if I was going to have to send Mercer any more proof, I was ready to mail off the contents of my son’s diaper genie.
Though my case appears to have been resolved, I am passing along this tale to alert you that many other Tribune employees may also be jolted by similar Mercer letters. Therefore, I reiterate the request I made in my previous email: that you instruct Mercer to send written confirmation to every employee that their documentation has been received and that they have met the proof standard of this wasteful and demeaning “audit.”
I am also encouraging, via the technological magic of the courtesy copy, that all Times employees who are being audited should demand written proof that their documents have been received and validated, since the administration of this “audit” to date has been less than confidence-inspiring, both in Mercer and in Tribune.
The painful irony in all this is that this energy in stopping Tribune from taking away my family’s health coverage has distracted me from my actual job responsibility: to cover Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s efforts to ensure that all people have health insurance. Given all the challenges that Tribune faces, one would think that the company would want us to focus on more important endeavors.
I still look forward to learning from you whether the Mercer audit has recouped costs greater than the fees Tribune is paying to Mercer. I’m pasting a copy of my original email below to refresh your recollection.