Another Union Goes To Court Over Mayor’s Plan To Cut Retiree Health Care Costs

AKRON, OH — A second union of city employees is advancing a complaint over an administrative decision to trim health care costs by making retirees and their families pay more.

The recommendation to cut legacy health care costs, which were projected at the time to double to $11 million by 2026, was made at the recommendation of a Blue Ribbon Task Force. The task force assembled by Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan also said unions should be consulted before making any cost-saving decision on the matter.

The unions were consulted, but not until the morning the mayor introduced four bills that passed City Council two years ago Tuesday. The legislation was designed to rein in the cost of health care for retirees and new hires. Three unions representing police, firefighters and office staff filed grievances, or formal complaints, within weeks.

The Civil Service Personnel Association, which represents 250 white-collar municipal employees, filed a motion at the end of September asking a judge to compel City Law Director Eve Belfance, who works for the mayor, to move its grievance over the health care changes to arbitration, where the police union scored a victory earlier this year.

Locally negotiated labor agreements allow unions to grieve a breach of contract, which the unions say the city did by unilaterally changing benefits. If the union and management — in this case, the mayor and his staff — do not agree on a solution, then an arbitrator is selected from an agreed-upon list and each side makes its case to that impartial jurist.

That’s what happened when the Fraternal Order of Police reached an impasse on the same issue.

The arbitrator, Hyman Cohen, favored the police officers’ argument in a ruling that blistered the city as tweaking health care and retirement benefits in “bad faith” outside collective bargaining.

The city is appealing Cohen’s order to undo the 2016 changes that effectively pushed the cost of retirement health insurance benefits onto new hires and made spouses and children pay monthly premiums for secondary insurance. Cohen’s limited ruling applies only to the 445 active-duty police officers and retirees, not employees represented by the other unions. CSPA is seeking the same favorable ruling. Judge Joy Malek Oldfield, whose courtroom was assigned CSPA’s request, will decide whether the matter moves forward.

The city is facing a fourth challenge to the health care changes, which also forced nonunion retirees like former chief city prosecutor Doug Powley to pay more to insure his wife and daughter. Powley sued in December 2017, making the case that the city acted beyond its authority by forcing the families like his off the city’s insurance at $60 a month and onto the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, which charges about $14,000 a year for primary coverage.

Union members and their families continue to get primary coverage through union pension funds. Their issue is the extra cost of supplemental insurance through the city.

There’s been no action in Powley’s lawsuit since April when Cohen ruled against the city. Powley said he’s waiting on Judge Oldfield, who is also overseeing his lawsuit, to rule on the last round of motions.

The mayor’s office had no update on its appeal of the arbitrator decision. A message was not returned by the president of the Local 330 chapter of the International Association of Firefighters, which has not yet filed a motion to move its grievance into arbitration behind the FOP and CSPA.

From The Akron Beacon Journal