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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Unless the collective bargaining agreement specifically so provides, the contract grievance procedure set out in the agreement is not available to a retiree


Unless the collective bargaining agreement specifically so provides, the contract grievance procedure set out in the agreement is not available to a retiree
2014 NY Slip Op 01845, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

A retired employee [Retiree] of the Village [Village] commenced this breach of contract action seeking to compel Village to pay 80% of his health insurance plan premiums, alleging that Village had paid him that percentage pursuant to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the Village and the union when he was an active employee.

Village moved to dismiss Retiree’s complaint on the ground that the grievance procedure provided for in the CBA was the exclusive procedure by which Retiree could seek redress and that he was required to bring his claim through the grievance procedure despite his status as a retiree. Retiree opposed Village's motion, arguing that the CBA restricted the class of individuals who could file a grievance to active employees.

Supreme Court ruled that the language of the CBA contained no such restriction and granted Village's motion. The Appellate Division disagreed, concluding that Supreme Court erred in interpreting the CBA, and reinstated Retiree’s complaint.

The Appellate Division explained that except when the CBA provides otherwise, is well settled that an active employee may not invoke a grievance procedure set out in a CBA as an individual but must proceed, through the union, in accordance with the contract."*

Here, however, the complaining party is a retiree rather than an active employee. The court noted that the CBA uses the word "member" is used interchangeably with the word "employee," and several CBA provisions that apply to "members," such as provisions for holiday pay and annual physicals, clearly affect only active employees. Further, said the court, the CBA provides that Village recognizes the union "as the exclusive representative for collective negotiations with respect to salaries, wages, and other terms and conditions of employment of all full-time and part-time employees" (emphasis in the decision).

Giving the word "member" its plain meaning, and interpreting the contract as a whole, the Appellate Division said that it agreed with Retiree that the word "member" means a member of the union. It is undisputed that Retiree ceased to be a member of the union in the collective bargaining unit upon his retirement. According, said the court, the clear and unambiguous terms of the CBA meant that Retiree, who was no longer a "member" of the union when he became aggrieved, could not file a grievance.

Citing Matter of DeRosa v Dyster, 90 AD3d 1470, a case in which the collective bargaining agreement expressly permitted "grievances concerning retirement benefits" and expressly provided for health insurance benefits after retirement, the majority of DeRosa court held that because only an individual "employee" could file a grievance, DeRosa, a retired employee of City of Niagara Falls, could not have filed a grievance before commencing a CPLR Article 78 proceeding. 

The Appellate Division stated that fact that the CBA expressly provides for health insurance benefits after retirement does not necessarily mean that an individual retiree will be permitted to use the grievance procedure to enforce those provisions. In Retiree’s case, as in DeRosa, “the clear and unambiguous terms of the CBA prevented plaintiff from filing a grievance.”

* Other such exception recognized by the courts include: [1] a retiree may initiate a grievance in the event the act or omission complained of arose while he or she was an active employee; and [2] an employee may initiate the contract grievance procedure "when the union fails in its duty of fair representation" but, as a condition precedent to so doing, the employee must allege and prove that the union breached its duty to provide fair representation to the individual.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2014/2014_01845.htm
.

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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