Judge rules for Milwaukee police union on health care

MILWAUKEE, WI &#8211 A judge on Friday granted a permanent injunction blocking Milwaukee’s efforts to make its police officers pay new deductibles and co-pays as part of their health insurance.

In a rambling, hour long oral ruling, Circuit Judge Dominic Amato said the city’s attempts to distinguish such payments from health insurance premiums was a “red herring,” and that the Legislature clearly intended to preserve all collective bargaining for public safety employees – including the right to bargain who pays the costs of health insurance.

The city asserted that a part of the state’s budget bill gives cities the authority to select and design health plans, and therefore set the deductibles and co-pays, and that only the plan’s premium payment was subject to collective bargaining by the police union.

In its latest contract, the union – Milwaukee Police Association – agreed to pay 12% of the premium, a significant increase. Members will also get a 3.6% raises.

Amato acknowledged that whatever he decided would be appealed, because the case is the first in the state to address how the provisions in the budget bill comport with Act 10, which changed collective bargaining for most public employees last year.

In January, Amato had granted a temporary injunction in favor of the Milwaukee Police Association, and Thursday he heard expert testimony during another hearing before deciding to make the injunction permanent.

During his oral ruling, he discounted the value of the city’s expert, an insurance broker from Waukesha. He said the case was really a labor issue, not an insurance matter, and that the union’s expert, a Florida labor lawyer with 35 years of experience, was much more persuasive.

That expert, Robert Klausner, testified that while the city can design any health insurance plan it wants, and decide to include deductibles and co-pays or not, and set amounts for them, those potential payments are really part of the overall costs of the plan. Deciding how to share those costs should be subject of bargaining, he said, and that’s clearly what a note in a memo about the budget bill meant where it indicates officers’ contributions to coverage remain subject to bargaining.

In July, after the new state budget was adopted, the Milwaukee Common Council tried to impose $500 and $1,000 deductibles for single and family plans for officers, as well as 10% co-pays with $1,000 maximums for singles and $2,000 for families of police officers. The union objected.

In the previous contract, most police officers paid only very small deductibles and co-pays for health insurance.

From The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.