Wednesday, July 15, 2020

352 City retirees file claims over health care benefits; Could lead to court battle

From The Journal

Christina Lieffring

RACINE — Three groups of retirees from the City of Racine — 352 individuals who are retired firefighters, police officers and public-works employees — have filed claims against the city over changes made last fall to their health-care benefits.

During the budget process last fall, the City Council approved changes that reduced the city’s health plan options to a single plan with a set contribution of 7.5%, calculated at $55 a month for an individual and $145 a month for a family.

Retired firefighter Mike George said there’s a clause in their contract that states that whatever premium they paid when they retired is the premium they pay for life under the city’s insurance. The city can change deductibles and co-pays, but their contract stipulates that premiums cannot change.

Some retirees retired when city employees were not required to pay any premiums, so they have not had to pay a premium in their retirement.

“And now they’re getting hit with the premiums,” George said.

The Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday discussed the claims in closed session. When it reconvened in open session, at the City Attorney’s Office’s recommendation, the committee voted unanimously to recommend that City Council disallow the claim.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on July 21.

Warnings unheeded

During the debate over the proposed changes last fall, the Finance and Personnel Committee with the Water and Wastewater utilities voted to break off from the city’s plan, partly because it did not want to hurt recruitment and retention, and partly because Utility General Manager Keith Haas was concerned that, based on case law, the changes to retirees’ benefits could result in litigation.

However, when the Water and Wastewater Commissions had to vote on the proposal, Commissioners Thomas Bunker and Kathleen DeMatthews were outnumbered by then-City Administrator Jim Palenick and Aldermen Natalia Taft and John Tate II.

Jose Carbajal of the Racine Professional Firefighters Local 321, said the union is in open arbitration with the city, arguing the city changed its contract when it changed its health care benefits. Carbajal said the union filed for arbitration shortly after the changes were voted in last year and followed with a prohibited practice complaint filed with the state in early 2020.

George said that if the council votes to disallow the claims, their next step may be taking the city to court.


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