Andrew & the unions
Last Updated: 4:00 AM, December 30, 2011
Posted: 10:40 PM, December 29, 2011
New York’s public-employee unions are predictably up in arms over the Cuomo administration’s move to increase the health-care contributions of their current retirees.
In fact, seven of the unions have filed suit in federal court, claiming the two percentage-point hike in retirees’ health-insurance premiums is unconstitutional.
But Gov. Cuomo’s spokesman insists the move is perfectly legal.
That will be decided in court — but there’s no denying that common sense and fiscal responsibility are on Cuomo’s side.
At issue are the contract deals the governor reached earlier this year with two major state unions, the Public Employees Federation and the Civil Service Employees Association.
Both contracts (ratified only after Cuomo began dispensing layoff notices) called for relatively modest concessions.
Among them: an increase that brings the employee share of health-care costs from 10 percent to 12 percent for singles and from 25 percent to 27 percent for family plans.
But the administration also moved to apply the increases to current retirees — who are not union members or state employees.
An “arbitrary and capricious . . . breach of our contract,” huffed the unions.
Except, of course, that they have no contract.
Moreover, says Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto: “The law clearly allows the administration to apply the terms of a new contract to retirees, and it has been well-known, standard practice to do so.”
Indeed, he notes, a legal change in 2009 allowed the state to pass on some Medicare-premium costs — previously borne entirely by Albany — to retirees.
Legally, it may be a gray area — so expect a lot of billable legal hours to be racked up debating this one.
But fiscal prudence — especially in dire times like these — argue for Cuomo’s position.
The increase is not especially onerous, even for those on fixed incomes: On average, the unions estimate an extra $150 a year for single coverage and $460 for family plans.
But the tens of millions it would save taxpayers statewide — most of whom do not enjoy the same benefits — are needed as Albany struggles with its chronic budget problems.
Yes, retirees will feel a slightly tighter pinch.