Liberty Township, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3754 (IAFF), and the United Steelworkers Local 9110-07 (USW) took part in an arbitration over the township’s insurance opt-out payment program.
The township was ordered to bring the language of the policy into conformity with state laws.
According to the arbitrator’s decision, “The Township does not have the right to unilaterally change the language in an existing labor agreement during its term. Therefore, the Township shall bring its existing ‘opt-out’ language which includes downgrading coverage into conformity with State Law.”
All parties involved received the arbitrator’s decision Feb. 19.
“The can of worms has been opened by this grievance,” said Trustee Melanie Leneghan. “In the past, we were given the okay to continue what we were doing.”
In a special session August 2016, trustees approved changing the opt-out insurance program from offering employees 50 percent of the township’s premium to reducing the amount to 25 percent of the premium to comply with the Ohio Revised Code.
Trustees wrote the resolution to reflect that the unions were not affected by the change, only the non-union employees.
“This will not be effective with unions until a memorandum of understanding or another form of agreement is agreed upon and approved by the unions and the township,” the August 2016 resolution states.
Trustees then approved a resolution in June 2017, adopting an opt-down policy in conjunction with the township’s health benefits.
The resolution states, “The township will continue to provide a cash payment to officers and employees who completely opt-out of the township’s health benefits.”
During the June 2017 trustees meeting, Fiscal Officer Nancy Denutte said some employees had elected to opt down in health benefits by removing their family members from coverage and taking the cash-in-lieu payments for those family members. She said the practice had been pointed out in the township’s financial audit by the auditor of state.
Denutte said the practice was illegal, and the resolution officially put an end to the practice at that time.
The employees who were affected filed a grievance with their local union.
“Now, I’m sitting with arbitration telling me to do something that I don’t particularly want to do,” Leneghan said. “We were given permission to let it go, now I’m forced not to let it go. We wanted to leave it alone.”
The arbitrator’s decision said, “The Township shall pay each bargaining unit member who is currently enrolled in the program an amount equal to the required ‘cash in lieu’ amount referenced in the law. That payment shall be retroactive to the date that the Fiscal Officer canceled the payments (May 23, 2017) and continue to the end date of the respective collective bargaining agreements.”
Denutte said she stopped the payments “because the law said, the benefit of opt-out is for the employee, not his family.”
The employee has to opt out of the plan in order for his family to opt out.” she said. “So, I had to stop it because I don’t want to have another amount of money to pay out for spending misappropriated money.”
Denutte said she can’t ask the township to do something that is illegal, which is payments over the state-mandated amount of 25 percent. She said the two employees that were removed from the opt-out program were reinstated, “as of this payroll.” They will also receive retroactive pay back to when they were removed from the program.
“Back to May 23, 2017, is how I understood it,” she said.
The resolution approved by the trustees Thursday states, “Taking appropriate action to recoup any over-payment made to those bargaining unit employees who received a cash-in-lieu payment greater than the statutory 25 percent level as of May 23, 2017.”
Denutte said the funds recouped from union employees enrolled in the opt-out program is estimated at $65,000.
“For right now, the safest thing for the township is to follow what our lawyer has said, or interrupted, and it could again be re-interrupted later,” Leneghan said.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.