Firefighters' union asks court to block Lexington health care plan changes

a key issue is lack of advisory committee

jhewlett@herald-leader.comNovember 23, 2011 

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Lexington Fire Station 5 Firefighter Jeremy Bruner, left, with his daughter Maddison, 1, son Clay, 7, daughter Kennedy, 9, and wife Alice and Reigan, 2, held signs outside Lexington Fayette Government Center before a meeting on Oct. 25 to discuss the new health care plans chosen by the city council. The firefighters' union filed suit Monday, alleging violations to a collective bargaining agreement.

CJ

The Lexington firefighters' union has sued the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and Mayor Jim Gray over changes in health insurance for city workers and alleged violations of a collective bargaining agreement.

Lexington Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 526 says in the lawsuit that the local government did not create a benefits advisory committee to make a health insurance recommendation to city leaders before insurance coverage for next year was selected, a violation of a collective bargaining agreement between the city and the union.

In the past, the local government has had such a benefits advisory committee, which included representatives from the union and all sectors of LFUCG employees, according to the suit, filed Monday in Fayette Circuit Court.

The mayor, without a benefits advisory committee in place, sent an email to all LFUCG employees on Oct. 18 "informing them of the available options for health insurance for the upcoming year, which include substantial and onerous increases in employee costs for all health insurance plans," the suit says.

On Oct. 31, the union filed a grievance against the local government over its "refusal" to create a benefits advisory committee, the suit says. However, an arbitrator would not be able to reach a decision on the grievance before the new health insurance program goes into effect, the suit indicates.

In the suit, the union is seeking a restraining order and a temporary and permanent injunction "to maintain the status quo" and to prevent the implementation of any LFUCG health insurance plan selected without the recommendation of a benefits advisory committee. A hearing on a motion for a temporary injunction, which accompanies the lawsuit, is scheduled for Dec. 5 in circuit court.

"We don't comment on open lawsuits," said Susan Straub, spokeswoman for the mayor.

Lexington's Urban County Council voted last month to pay up to $3.8 million in 2012 to offset higher health insurance rates for city employees under an overhauled health insurance program. The council agreed to help employees by providing them with an extra $75 to $200 a month. Gray said the city was committed to giving employees a supplement, even though city officials didn't know where the $3.8 million would come from.

City employees have expressed anger at the new rates. The 2012 equivalent to the local government's current Platinum Plan, in which 89 percent of city workers are enrolled, will cost several hundred dollars more per month.

About 6,400 people, including employees, dependents and retirees, are covered under the city's health insurance program. The city has been millions of dollars over budget for employees' health insurance in the past three fiscal years.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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