Unions Sue New York State over Health Benefits Changes

March 5, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Unions representing 6,500 New York State court employees are suing the state for changing members' healthcare benefits while contract negotiations were still under way.

The unions say the change is a violation of the federal and state constitutions and collective bargaining laws, according to Courthouse News Service

The plaintiffs seek declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief for changes that increased the costs of health insurance benefits for unionized court employees, made by the state after it secured a new contract with the Civil Service Employees Association. 

Specifically, the plaintiffs want a new section of civil service law declared unconstitutional because it “impermissibly impairs the obligation of contract and violates the due-process rights of the plaintiff court unions and their members, by, among other things, increasing costs to and reducing benefits for employees.” 

Courthouse News Service reports the new provision, passed by the New York Legislature in August 2011, changed the long-standing arrangement under which current and retired state employees share the costs of health insurance benefits. Since 1983, the state has been required under civil service law to pay 90% of the premium for individual coverage and 75% of the premium for dependents.  

The legislature amended a section of the civil service law governing the state contribution rates, removing language that permitted only “increased” state contribution rates, and allowing the rates to be “modified” by collective bargaining. When the Civil Service Employees Association—New York’s largest employee union, with more than 65,000 members—subsequently ratified a new five-year contract that changed the state contribution rate and increased the workers’ share of the costs, the state decided to extend the changes to all unrepresented employees designated as management/confidential, employees of the Unified Court System—including the non-judicial court workers—and employees of the legislature, the compliant states, according to the news report. 

The changes reduced the state contribution of 90% and 75% by a couple of percentage points each.  

The eight court unions, however, are still negotiating new contracts to succeed those that expired on March 31, 2011. The unions say, since no new contracts are in place, the previous ones should continue. 

The unions are asking that the court find the changes to the state contribution rate as applied to the eight unions violate the U.S. and state constitutions and thus are void; that the changes breach the unions' collective bargaining agreements; and that the defendants acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner. They want the defendants permanently enjoined from applying the changes to members of the eight unions, and thus taking deductions from their paychecks or pension payments. They also seek damages for union members who face additional costs to continue their benefits.  

Plaintiffs include eight unions and their presidents on behalf of non-judicial employees in civil, criminal and family courts in New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties. Defendants include New York State, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti, the state Civil Service Commission, state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and state Budget Director Robert L. Megna.  

The complaint is at http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/03/05/Cuomo.pdf.