Sep. 7--RACINE -- True to their word, the 352 city retirees whose claims regarding changes to their health care benefits were disallowed by the City Council have filed three lawsuits against the city, which cite two previous lawsuits over retiree health benefits that resulted in settlement.
The Racine City Council approved sweeping changes to city employees' and retirees' health care benefits last fall which led to 352 retirees filing claims with the city over those changes, stating they had a contractual right to the same benefits they received when they retired. The Racine City Council voted in July to disallow those claims.
Retired firefighter Mike George had said that if the claims were disallowed, they would consider filing suit against the city.
On Aug. 20, Attorney Christopher MacGillis of MacGillis and Wiemer of Wauwatosa, filed the three complaints which are practically identical aside from the group of retirees listed; one case is on behalf of Racine Fire and EMS retirees, another on behalf of Racine Police Department retirees, and the third for retired members of AFSCME Local 67 which represents Public Works and other city employees.
It isn't the first time the city has had to settle with retirees over their health benefits; in fact it's not even the second. The city settled with retirees in 2007 and 2011 over benefits changes that had been enacted in 2005 and 2006.
Here we go again
The complaints cite some passages in the settlement over Wanda Sorensen et al, versus The City of Racine, which was filed in 2006 and settled in 2007 over changes to retiree benefits which were passed in 2005.
The current complaint cited the following requirements of the settlement, which stated:
"For the lifetime of the Retiree and the lifetime of Retiree's surviving Spouse, if any, the City shall not, at any time, require the Retiree or the surviving Spouse, as the case may be, to contribute toward the premium cost of his or her single or family coverage under the Plan, and amount more than the lesser or: A. 5% of the total premium cost of said coverage; B. $30 per month for single coverage or $60 per month for family coverage; or C. The lowest premium contribution (including but not limited to zero) then required of any other person who retired from City employment prior to January 1, 2007, for continued coverage under the Plan."
It also cited another requirement, stating: "For the lifetime of the Retiree and the lifetime of the Retiree's surviving Spouse, if any, the City shall reimburse the Retiree and his or her spouse, if any, or the surviving spouse, as the case may be, the total premium cost of the Medicare Part B Coverage."
They also cited the following clause in a 2011 settlement agreement between the city and retired police staff. "As to premium contributions, in accordance with labor agreements in existence as to the relevant date: (A) Retirees who retired before January 1, 2006 shall not be required to pay health insurance premiums. (B) Retirees who retired between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2009, inclusive, shall contribute 5% of the monthly premium for the coverage selected by the member to a maximum monthly amount of $40 for single coverage and $70 for family coverage."
The complaints argued that the city deliberately breached contract in 2019, pointing out that City Attorney Scott Letteney served as a Deputy City Attorney from 2006 until 2015, when we was appointed City Attorney. So, he would have had knowledge of the previous settlements. The 2011 settlement provided as part of the complaint was signed by Letteney.
Letteney declined to speak on the basis of the claims when they had been submitted to the city but stated that, "I will note that the union contracts over the years have required the retirees' health care plan design to be the same as the active employees'."
Former Alderman Sandy Weidner was also quoted in the new filing because she had spoken at length about Wanda Sorensen et al. during deliberations over the health benefit changes. "I think that the action that we are taking tonight not only violates the settlement agreement, but it violates the spirit of the agreement. So I would hope that my colleagues take seriously the expense that is involved when our retirees have to sue the City and then of course get reimbursed for their legal expenses. And then of course, the City, when they lose, or they come to an agreement that would be fair, have to reimburse those retirees for their out-of-pocket expenses for the time that the case took place. I think its's a waste of money and I think the right thing to do is to honor the agreements that each of the retirees had with the City of Racine at the time when they retired."
As of Friday, the city had not yet responded to the complaints.
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