Appellate Court Affirms Unions’ Right to Arbitrate on Behalf of Retired Members

By Ira W. Mintz, Esq.

Township of Voorhees v. Voorhees Police Officers Ass’n et al., App. Div. Dkt. No. A-1742-11T2 (8/28/12).

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court has affirmed a September 2011 Commission decision (P.E.R.C. No. 2012-13), which held that that a union may seek to enforce a contract on behalf of retired employees in arbitration because the union has a cognizable interest in ensuring that retired employees receive whatever retirement benefits were contracted for in the last agreement before retirement.  The Township of Voorhees had announced that, due to budgetary constraints, it would no longer be reimbursing retirees for prescription co-payments in excess of the co-payments provided through the State Health Benefits Program.  The unions filed grievances and the Commission rejected the Township’s request for a restraint of binding arbitration.  In affirming the Commission decision, the Court recognized that the unions have a strong interest in vindicating the rights of its retired members.  PERC distinguished its case law which holds that an employer is not under an obligation to negotiate over benefits of already retired employees.  The Court expressed no view on the question of whether the Township is required to bargain on the issue in the future.  The Court simply held that whether the prior and current contracts require the Township to continue the supplemental prescription reimbursement program could be decided by the arbitrator.  The Court also stated that the Township’s claim that it did not have the authority to enter into the reimbursement agreements was a matter for determination through the arbitration process.

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