Elaine Lanick is shop steward and a longtime aide at Solis-Cohen Elementary in the Northeast. She didn't discover she had lost her health insurance until a colleague who had been turned away from a doctor's office called her.
Lanick, who is diabetic, also needs her medical plan to cover her school-age child. She told of coworkers with similar woes, including one with a son with kidney disease and another whose child needs back surgery.
"This is what we're dealing with," Lanick said.
Doris Smith, president of Local 634, the union that represents noontime aides and had picked up the medical insurance for the dual appointees, acknowledged that the union knew the workers were losing benefits.
In a contract negotiated this spring, Smith made it a priority to have the district cover a group of about 200 Local 634 members who work as early childhood noontime aides, a different category. Their positions are five-hour jobs; the dual appointees, noontime aides in Local 634 like Lanick, work three hours in their roles as SSAs. SSAs are covered by another union.
"We had to make a decision," Smith said. "We said, 'We'll go with the five-hour early childhood aides.' I wasn't glad about accepting it, and if I could afford it, I'd give everyone the benefit."
Smith said the union would file a grievance against the district for failing to notify the affected employees.
"When we signed the contract, our understanding is that the district was going to send them out a letter saying that as of Sept. 1, they would no longer have major medical," Smith said.
Though they lack health insurance, affected aides can get free care at city health centers, she said.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said it was not the district's job to notify workers.
"We do not communicate to union membership regarding possible changes in their union contract during the ratification process," Gallard said. "That is done by the union itself."
Lanick said she never knew about the new provision in 634's contract - she found out about its ratification after the fact. She said Smith told her the contract was not yet available because it was being typed.
The affected workers are entitled to purchase continuing benefits through COBRA, but the workers say they still haven't received those letters.
Gallard said the district has 15 days from the discontinuation of benefits to inform employees about COBRA eligibility. The letters went out this week, he said Wednesday.
Lanick has worked at Solis-Cohen for 11 years, taking home a small paycheck - under $1,000 a month - but relishing the work, the children, the sense of community, and the perks.
"They money's always been terrible, but the benefits have always been good," she said. "That's why we have these jobs."
She's fielded calls from aides around the city who have found themselves in a bind - no health insurance, no warning it was going away.
"The news is just starting to trickle down; people are just starting to find out," Lanick said. "They just can't cut us off like this."
Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.