July 13, 2021

Challenging attempts to change a retirees health insurance benefits

The 2008 New York State Supreme Court decision set out below appears to have new legs.

It is being studied certain New York City retirees contending that New York City is attempting to change retirees' healthcare benefits from "traditional Medicare to a privatized Medicare Advantage Plan to save $600 million per year"and that this will change the quality of healthcare benefits for those retirees to their disadvantage. 

In DiBattista v County of Westchester* New York State Supreme Court Justice Joan B. Lefkowitz concluded that viewing "settled principles of law involving interpretation of collective bargaining agreements, it is clear that plaintiffs' health insurance benefits in the prior collective bargaining agreements survived those agreements and may not be diminished without their consent." 

Her ruling, addressing the County's alleged unilateral changing the health insurance benefits claimed by certain Westchester County retirees is set out below:

In this certified class action involving approximately 1,600 persons who retired from Westchester County during the period of 1993 to 2004, plaintiffs allege that defendants breached their contracts by diminishing their health insurance benefits causing plaintiffs additional medical and health insurance costs of $3,610,181 to date.

Between 1993 - 2001, two collective bargaining agreements were executed between CSEA and Westchester County which provided for certain medical health insurance benefits. Those provisions remained in effect until May 2004 when a new agreement was made. That agreement changed the health benefits of active employees and Westchester County decided that such changes also affected retired employees. It had been the policy of Westchester County to treat retirees the same as active employees whenever a new collective bargaining agreement occurred.

Counsel have stipulated to the facts in this action rather than a trial and have submitted various exhibits and memoranda of law for the Court to consider.

Until 1993, prior collective bargaining agreements insofar as health insurance benefits were concerned were effective for the duration of the contract or the term of the contract. The immediate past two collective bargaining agreements (effective January 1, 1993 through May 2004) omitted language as to duration and specifically included retirees.

Absent consent of all parties, a union does not represent retirees when it negotiates with an employer in collective bargaining. Allied Chem. Wkrs. v. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., 404 US 157, 180 footnote 20 (1971). Indeed, "vested retirement rights may not be altered without the pensioner's consent". Ibid. 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". International Union, UAW v. Yard-Man, Inc., 716 F2d 1476, 1482 (6th Cir. 1983), cert. den. 465 US 1007 (1984). Retiree benefits "carry with them an inference that they continue so long as the prerequisite status is maintained". Ibid. This inference trumps any general duration clause as to the life or termination of the agreement. Id. at 1482-83. Therefore, pursuant to settled principles of law involving interpretation of collective bargaining agreements, it is clear that plaintiffs' health insurance benefits in the prior collective bargaining agreements survived those agreements and may not be diminished without their consent. Hudock v. Village of Endicott, 28 AD3rd 923 (3rd Dep't 2006); Della Rocco v. Schenectady, 252 AD2d 82 (3rd Dep't 1998); Myers v. City of Schenectady, 244 AD2d 845 (3rd Dep't 1997).

Defendants' reliance on McDonald Police v. Geneva, 92 NY2d 326 (1998) is misplaced as the collective bargaining agreements there did not address the benefits in issue whereas the prior collective bargaining agreements at bar do.

Accordingly, judgment in favor of plaintiffs is granted. Submit Order on notice. 

DATED: July 29, 2008 

ENTERED: /S/ JOAN B. LEFKOWITZ, J.S.C.

* DiBattista v County of Westchester 2008 NY Slip Op 52731(U) Decided on July 29, 2008 Supreme Court, Westchester County Lefkowitz, J. Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431. This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.


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