PERB ALJ holds the County's unilateral discontinuing its past practice of reimbursing Medicare Premiums to its retirees an improper practice In the Matter of Civil Service Employees Association, Inc., Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and County of St. Lawrence, Public Employment Relations Board, Case no. U-29935 [Decision made available to NYPPL through the courtesy of Paul S. Bamberger, Esq., Senior Counsel, CSEA Legal Department.] Civil Service Employees Association, Inc., Local 1000, filed an improper practice charge alleging that St. Lawrence County violated §209-a.1(d) of the Public Employees' Fair Employment Act (The Taylor Law) when it announced to all current employees changes in the County's Medicare Part B reimbursement policy. The County filed an answer denying that its actions violated the Act. In lieu of a hearing, the parties stipulated the following critical facts: 1. In 1985, the County Board of Legislators passed Resolution No. 361-85 providing that the County would reimburse eligible retirees – i.e., County employees with at least five years of service — twice each year for their cost of Medicare Part B premiums "for life". 2. The premiums for Medicare Part B have increased over the years, from 1985 to the present, and the County continually reimbursed Medicare eligible retirees and their spouses for the full cost of the Medicare Part B premiums as they increased. 3. On November 17, 2009, the County Legislature passed Resolution No. 368-2009 amending the Medicare Part B reimbursement policy set forth in Resolution 361-85 whereby the County would not increase the reimbursement of Medicare Part B premiums above the amount of the cost of the premiums as of January 1,2010, regardless of any increases in Medicare Part B premiums after that date. 4. The County discontinued its reimbursement practice with respect to County employees who retire after December 31, 2010. On this record, said PERB Administrative Law Judge Jean Doerr, "it must be found that a past practice exists, binding the County to continue the reimbursement of the Medicare Part B premium to eligible retirees and their spouses." Judge Doerr pointed out that the parties stipulated that the reimbursement policy began in 1985 and continued to the present with the full knowledge of County management and County employees. Accordingly, and consistent with the Board's holding in Matter of Chenango Forks, [40 PERB 3012 (2007)], the ALJ ruled that the payment of Medicare Part B premiums encompasses a mandatory subject of collective bargaining "as it is in the nature of benefits related to health insurance for employees upon retirement, whether or not those employees retire during the life of the agreement." The ALJ rejected the County's theory "that because the reimbursements were made as a result of a public act of a municipal board, County employees could not have reasonably expected that the payment of Medicare Part B premiums would continue unchanged," concluding that its argument in this respect was misplaced.* Judge Doerr explained that "the nature of the enabling legislation upon which an employer acts is not controlling" as it is the act of the employer in providing the benefit, and not the legislative body at whose direction the employer acts, "which we look to in determining, as here, the existence of an enforceable past practice." Further, the ALJ noted that the County stipulated "that the 24-year practice was well known to all County employees" and created an "expectation of the continuation of the practice … from its duration with consideration of the specific circumstances under which the practice has existed." Judge Doerr ruled that the County violated §209-a.1(d) of the Taylor Law when it unilaterally announced to its current employees that it would no longer reimburse retirees and their spouses for the cost of Medicare Part B premiums for those unit employees who retire after December 31, 2010, and that reimbursement would be frozen at January 1, 2010 levels for those unit employees who retire by December 31, 2010. New York Public Personnel Law earlier posted materials related to the issue of discontinuing the reimbursement of Medicare Premiums, in whole or in part, to retirees at: http://publicpersonnellaw.blogspot.com/2010/09/school-district-ordered-to-reimburse.html and at: http://publicpersonnellaw.blogspot.com/2010/05/reduction-of-medicare-premiums.html * The County argued the acts of a public act of a municipal board are subject to repeal and amendment and is therefore recognized as temporary in nature, citing to Collins v. City of Schenectady, 256 AD 389 (3d Dept 1939), and Jewett v. Luau-Nyack Corporation, 31 NY2d 298 (1972).
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