WHITE PLAINS -- Like many who choose careers in public service, Phil Robbins joined the White Plains Fire Department in 1970 in part because "the benefits were good."
"The pay wasn't great," said Robbins, who retired in 1990, "but you knew that if you retired after 20 years you'd get free health care."
In a move critics say was made without public discussion, the Common Council voted unanimously last month to require retired city employees with 20 years of service who were hired before July 1, 1995, to pay 15 percent of their health insurance costs.
The change will affect about 640 retirees, who will pay between $661 and $2,395 a year, depending on their health-care plan.
Current administrative and appointed employees and elected officials are also being assessed 15 percent.
While the city says the measure saves money in a difficult budget year, retirees and union leaders say it's an underhanded act of betrayal.
"Those weren't the terms I signed up for or retired under," said Walter Holubis, a police officer for 34 years. "It's not right for the city to do this to me now. I held up my end of the bargain, they should hold up theirs."
Despite "deep reservations," Mayor Adam Bradley voted for the measure.
"My reservations were mitigated by my commitment and hope to find alternative health insurance plans that will require a much smaller, or no contribution by retirees," he said through a spokeswoman.
Council President Thomas Roach, who proposed the change, said he would welcome such a plan.
Fire union President Joseph Carrier and his brother James, who heads the police union, said many retirees are now senior citizens on fixed incomes. They said the city used the benefit as a recruiting tool for years.
The Carriers said their unions are considering legal action against the city.
So is attorney Al Pirro, who said he had been contacted by a number of city retirees.
"We believe that this violates the City Charter, and that the council does not have the authority to do this," he said. "We intend to commence legal action to stop this."
Retired firefighter Bob Lyons, who had triple-bypass heart surgery in 1992 and drives a school bus to make ends meet, said the added cost may force him to move.
"I'm already living paycheck to paycheck," he said. "Now I don't know if I can still afford to see my heart doctor. It's not right."