EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – The borough has filed a petition with the state Supreme Court, hoping to reverse an Appellate Division verdict that would force the town to reimburse police officers for higher copayments for doctor visits.
The borough and Police Benevolent Association Local 275 have been at odds since the state Health Benefits Commission doubled the copay for doctor visits to $10 on Jan. 1, 2007.
The police union objected to the increase and assumed its contract with the borough, agreed to in 2005, protected it from making additional payments.
“This case is wrongly decided and sets a dangerous precedent, because it requires the borough to pay any and all increases that aren’t in its control and prevents us from patrolling significant health care costs,” said attorney David F. Corrigan, who is representing the borough.
Corrigan said he filed the appeal last week.
“I understand he [the borough] was shot with the gun, but I didn’t shoot you,” said attorney Richard Loccke, whose law firm is representing the police union. “The gun shot you. Sue the gun.”
He said the borough would have to pay less than $1,000 in reimbursements. Numerous phone calls to Anthony Bianchi, the borough’s chief financial officer, weren’t returned.
The appellate court in July reinstated an arbitrator’s award that Judge Mark Russello of state Superior Court in Hackensack vacated, court records show.
That decision came more than four years after the police union sought arbitration in the disagreement, court records show.
Mayor James Cassella said every municipal employee, except borough officers, is paying the higher copay.
“The police are the highest-paid employees in the municipality,” the mayor said. “We’re not asking the police to contribute more than anyone else.”
He commended the police force for its swift responses during Hurricane Irene and said its efforts were exemplary.
The borough and PBA entered into a contract covering the period from Jan. 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2009, calling for officers and their families to make $5 copayments per doctor visit, court papers show.
The union objected to the $10 copays after it was told that its contract with the borough didn’t shield it from the higher payments, court records show.
The union sought arbitration after a grievance it filed for reimbursement in January 2007 was denied by the borough two months later, court records show.
The borough responded by petitioning the state Public Employment Relations Commission to block any arbitration, court documents show.
The commission denied the petition, court records show, and the arbitrator decided in the union’s favor, ruling that “the borough committed to paying for the ‘existing medical prescription plans and coverage for employees’ and their families covered by the CBA [collective bargaining agreement],” court papers show.
The arbitrator relied on a provision in the contract stating: “All increases in premiums during the term of this agreement shall be borne entirely by the borough pursuant to present practice,” court records show.
The borough then filed a lawsuit with the state Superior Court in Hackensack, seeking to vacate the arbitrator’s award, court documents show.
Russello reversed the arbitrator’s decision on June 1, 2010, saying the arbitrator had violated law, public policy and “was in excess of the arbitrator’s authority,” court records show.