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SANBORN – It sounds like chump change: $8.50 a month that Niagara County Community College is refusing to pay to each of about 120 retirees.

But the principle is big, attorney Richard H. Wyssling said in explaining a lawsuit filed last week over the reduction in monthly Medicare Part B reimbursements.

“We think the college is making another attempt unilaterally to change the contract,” Wyssling said.

That’s why the NCCC Faculty Association has agreed to finance what Wyssling hopes will become a class-action lawsuit over the Medicare reimbursement issue.

The lead plaintiff is Anthony S. Gullo of the Town of Lockport, a retired professor who used to be president of the Faculty Association.

He complained in January when his monthly Medicare Part B bill was $104.90, showing an increase for this year by the federal government. But NCCC reimbursed him only for $96.40, the 2012 monthly tab.

“It does sound minimal, I understand,” said Wyssling, the union’s attorney, who also is representing Gullo.

But in a situation where the Faculty Association’s last contract expired seven years ago, the union attorney said, it seems like an effort by NCCC to get changes it can’t win at the bargaining table.

“The negotiating position of the college for a long time has been that the employees should pay the full cost” of Medicare Part B, Wyssling said.

NCCC President James P. Klyczek could not be reached to comment Friday.

But Vicki Orzetti, assistant human resources director at NCCC, made the college’s position clear in a Jan. 14 email to Gullo that is attached to his lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court:

“The fact the college reimbursed you for Medicare Part B premiums at all has always been at the college’s discretion, as has been the amount to reimburse,” Orzetti wrote. “Due to financial considerations, the college has determined that they cannot increase the amount it has been reimbursing retirees.”

Gullo said NCCC has been paying for Part B for 46 years, and his successor as union chief, Joseph Colosi, said it’s required by the terms of the union contract, which remains in force despite the lack of a successor agreement, thanks to a state law called the Triborough Amendment.

Wyssling contended that County Attorney Claude A. Joerg and Risk Management Director Jennifer R. Pitarresi agree with his view that NCCC should pay the $8.50 a month. Joerg and Pitarresi both denied Wyssling’s statement.

“I don’t know him. I haven’t spoken to him. I haven’t seen the litigation. I haven’t formed an opinion on it,” Pitarresi said.

“I really can’t give you an opinion on that. I know there is a history of the college paying it,” Joerg said.

Pitarresi said the college has its own health care plans and its own bargaining team. She said the county itself pays a Part B reimbursement to its retirees twice a year, but it doesn’t pay a surcharge on high-income seniors that the federal government imposed during the George W. Bush administration.

Wyssling said the Faculty Association is bargaining directly with the college for a new contract, and a state fact finder’s report is due in September.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com