The Chief
April 20, 2007

Rule PBA, SBA Entitled to Data On Benefit Use

By REUVEN BLAU

The city's Board of Collective Bargaining has ruled that the Bloomberg administration violated local bargaining law by failing to directly supply the unions representing cops and Sergeants with requested health-benefit information in 2003.

The Office of Labor Relations supplied the data — which included medical and hospital claims and premiums paid covering fiscal year 2000 through March 31, 2003 — to the Municipal Labor Committee, which has bargained health benefits on behalf of its member unions for more than 35 years.

'Uniformed' Push

But an ad hoc coalition formed by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the Sergeants' Benevolent Association and a group of five other uniformed unions had asked for the data earlier on May 2, 2003.

The city had responded that the request by the Coalition of the Police and Fire Unions on Pension and Health should be directed to the chair of the MLC, Randi Weingarten.

"The city's response to and through MLC members, does not satisfy its duty owed to individual certified employee organizations that have made requests for information outside the MLC," the 6-1 BCB decision stated.

The ruling was notable, as the PBA has recently called for the disbandment of the BCB, charging that the independent board is biased against cops.

The dispute concerning the drug data began in September 2001, when the city and MLC members, including representatives from the PBA and the SBA, began meeting to negotiate a successor agreement to the 2001 Health Benefits Agreement.

Erroneous Assumption

The ad hoc coalition was started because the SBA was initially under the belief that uniformed employees used psychotropic drugs covered under the health plan less frequently than their civilian counterparts. The figures actually revealed that SBA members if anything were being overserved by the plan, in large part due to their spouses' utilization of those medications.

Looking to prove its case, the coalition asked the city to supply it with data regarding psychotropic, injectable, chemotherapy, and asthma drug claims. But the city rebuffed that request, asserting the petition had to come from the MLC.

In response, the MLC then asked for the PICA data. As a result, on Nov. 14, 2003 the city provided the information. OLR officials later claimed that the figures were enclosed in separate envelopes labeled for each union that requested the figures, including the SBA and PBA.

Those two unions filed an improper practice charge against the city, contending that the OLR's insistence that it would provide the information only through the MLC constituted an attempt to control their representative for collective bargaining - a violation of local negotiation law.

Claimed Discrimination

The SBA and PBA also argued that OLR discriminated against them and violated its duty to bargain. The unions asserted that the MLC occasionally serves as a "spokesperson" for various unions, but not the bargaining representative.

The city pointed out that there were multiple unions that wanted the same detailed information, which involved complex arrangements with third-party health insurance providers to retrieve thousands of pages of computerized data. Coordinating requests for information is not refusal to bargain, the city contended.

"We find that the city's expressed desire to 'coordinate' multiple requests from numerous unions seeking similar health benefit information ... to be entirely reasonable," the BCB ruled. "However ... New York City Labor Law does not authorize the city's desire to 'coordinate' to override the lawful entitlement of each certified representative to a separate response from the employer."

The board ordered that the city stop requiring that health information requests from specific unions be submitted through the MLC. "The city reasonably should not have assumed that the MLC was acting as the agent of the PBA and the SBA for that purpose," the decision stated.