LOCKPORT – Another piece has been added to the City of Lockport’s ever-growing stack of labor litigation, as 71 retired police officers and firefighters are suing the city over cutbacks in their health insurance.
The lawsuit, filed last week in State Supreme Court, asserts that the city unilaterally reduced coverage and increased out-of-pocket expenses for the retirees.
The suit, filed by attorney Hugh C. Carlin of the Buffalo firm of Grove, Shuman, Brizdle & Gilfillan, says that even though the plaintiffs’ retirement dates extend as far back as 1980, all police and fire union collective bargaining agreements since then have promised 100 percent city-paid medical coverage to retirees, except for various prescription drug copayments.
The suit charges that in 2009, the city moved retirees from a traditional Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan into a health maintenance organization and stopped paying the retirees’ monthly Medicare Part B premiums of $104 per month for each retiree and spouse.
Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said that was at about the time the city and its five unions negotiated changes in health insurance for active employees.
The lawsuit says that in June 2013, the city cut the retirees annual dental allowance from $300 to $75, and reduced the annual vision care allowance from $100 to $75. A 20 percent copayment was imposed for durable medical goods.
Also, the retirees allege that last year, besides raising drug copayments, the city put a new Medicare Part D prescription drug list into use, which doesn’t include some of the medications retirees were taking. That move caused substantial expense for the retirees, the suit said.
This year, the city, in a financial crisis documented by audits from the State Comptroller’s Office, failed to fund the retirees benefit cards, called flex cards, until Feb. 10, the lawsuit charges.
Ottaviano said once the city started receiving correspondence threatening a lawsuit, the city hired attorney Scott DeLuca of the Buffalo firm of Schrader, Israely & DeLuca to represent it.
Neither DeLuca nor Carlin returned calls seeking comment Tuesday.
The firefighters won a lawsuit in May over the premature cutoff of health coverage for seven laid-off firemen and were allowed to take that case to arbitration.
The city won a decision last week that it was allowed to reduce Fire Department staffing and equipment levels and is suing theunion to try to stop it from seeking arbitration over that issue.
Other open labor lawsuits involve who is eligible to be considered for promotion to fire chief and who should be allowed to push the button opening the garage door at the firehouse.