A State Supreme Court Justice has granted the Yonkers firefighters’ union the right to arbitration after the city claimed it could determine if retirees already cleared for disability benefits by the state can receive supplemental benefits.
Local 628 of the International Association of Fire Fighters filed a grievance in September after the city told injured retiree Kevin McGrath that he had to submit separate paperwork to be approved for supplemental benefits. He’d already been cleared by the State Comptroller to receive a portion of his working salary through the New York State Retirement System for a permanent disability he acquired in the line of duty.
City: ‘We’re the Deciders’
The supplemental benefits would restore him to his full previous salary; in exchange, he couldn’t take any outside work. The City of Yonkers told him his case would be reviewed after he submitted an application, an affidavit stating he had no other employment, copies of all medical records related to his claim and any other related records.
The union noted that for years, the city had followed the procedure set in the local’s contract for issuing supplemental benefits, and when the state deemed someone eligible they were granted the city benefits, as well.
But Yonkers officials argued that the contract—which stipulates how these matters are handled—doesn’t specifically mention the subsection of the law governing supplemental benefits, nor does it specifically mention retirees. They asked the court to permanently block the matter from going to arbitration.
Need Neutral Forum
Instead, Justice Mary H. Smith ruled for the union, noting that the collective-bargaining agreement gave either party the right to arbitrate over how to interpret the pact. Such rights should be interpreted broadly, she said, citing a 2010 decision involving a firefighters’ union in Tennessee.
“From the perspective of the employee, having a neutral, fair forum for this decision is important,” said Richard Corenthal, an attorney for the local. He has separately filed an improper-practice charge for the union with the state Public Employment Relations Board, arguing that the city violated the Taylor Law by attempting to unilaterally change the terms of the contract.
“You can see that this is such an important benefit and protection for firefighters that we are pursuing aggressively all [our] rights,” he said.
The firefighters’ union scuffled with Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano.