The Journal News July 14, 2011
WHITE PLAINS — City Hall has captured its first significant win in its highly litigated battle to alter its health care contributions.
An arbitrator announced Wednesday that he was siding with the city in a dispute brought by the police union.
The union challenged legislation passed last year that required some police retirees to start paying 15 percent of their health premiums.
"Anyone would feel that his decision is not the proper one," said Robert Riley, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the City of White Plains. "It's just an unjust ruling."
He said he'd consult with the union's attorney to determine its next step, if any.
Mayor Thomas Roach, who initially proposed the health care change, said he had no comment on the decision.
The legislation requires some retirees hired before 1995, as well as current and retired elected and appointed officials, to start paying 15 percent. Union workers hired during and after 1995 were contractually protected from the change.
The arbitration was among a bevy of legal actions taken by current and former city employees after the health care changes passed. Three pending arbitrations and five federal lawsuits, including one from the police union, are also in the works. Since May, the city has paid about $80,000 in legal fees to defend the legislation, but total savings from the health care change would be $500,000 annually, city officials say.
According to the 45-page arbitration decision, the police union argued that its retirees have been given 100 percent health care coverage for decades and so the city could not change those past practices unilaterally. It also said the coverage level was contractually protected.
The city argued that the 100 percent coverage was never mentioned in any contracts with the union. Because it was not obligated to pay 100 percent, it could change the contribution level if it wanted. The city did not dispute that 100 percent was paid for decades.
The arbitrator, Arthur Riegel, agreed with the city's claims and wholly denied the union's grievance.