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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Health insurance benefit enjoyed by retired individuals not subject to collective bargaining between the employer and the employee organization absent the consent of all the parties


Health insurance benefit enjoyed by retired individuals not subject to collective bargaining between the employer and the employee organization absent the consent of all the parties
DiBattista v County of Westchester, 35 Misc3d 1205

The action involved some 1,600 individuals who retired from Westchester County as their employer between 1993 and 2004.

Between 1993 and 2001, two collective bargaining agreements were executed between CSEA and Westchester County. These agreements, among other things, provided for certain medical health insurance benefits. Those provisions remained in effect until May 2004 when a new agreement was made.

The 2004 agreement changed the health benefits available to active employees and Westchester County decided that such changes should also be imposed on its then retired employees. The County indicated that it had been its policy to treat retirees the same as active employees whenever a new collective bargaining agreement negotiated.

The retired employees sued, contending the County could not modify their health insurance benefits to reflect the benefits it and CSEA had negotiated on behalf of active employees in the collective bargaining unit when such modification resulted in an increase in their medical and health insurance costs.

Justice Lefkowitz agreed, ruling:

1. “Absent consent of all parties, a union does not represent retirees when it negotiates with an employer in collective bargaining;

2. “Vested retirement rights may not be altered without the pensioner's consent;

3. “Where, as here, there is no durational limit in the immediate prior collective bargaining agreements as to retiree health insurance benefits 'it is unlikely that such benefits, which are typically understood as a form of delayed compensation for past services, would be left to the contingencies of future negotiations';

4. “Retiree benefits 'carry with them an inference that they continue so long as the prerequisite status is maintained'; and

5. “This inference trumps any general duration clause as to the life or termination of the agreement.”

Deciding in favor of the retirees, Justice Lefkowitz held that the retirees’ health insurance benefits set out in the prior collective bargaining agreements survived the 2004 negotiated agreement and could not be modified without their consent, citing Hudock v. Village of Endicott, 28 AD3rd 923 and other decisions.

N.B. The County appealed Justice Lefkowitz's decision but subsequently decided to withdraw its appeals. The Appellate Division granted the County’s application to withdraw the appeals [DiBattista v County of Westchester, Slip Opinion No: 2010 NY Slip Op 60446(U), Appellate Division, Second Department, Motion Decision].

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2008/2008_52731.htm

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