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Unionized Firefighters Can’t be Shielded from Pension Contributions by the Triborough Amendment
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On Tuesday, a divided New York Court of Appeals held in two separate rulings that unionized firefighters in Yonkers and Oswego must make pension plan contributions after the expiry of their collective bargaining agreements. The court found in both cases that a 2009 law requires workers like firefighters and police to contribute 3 percent of their salaries towards pension plans. The court also found that the authority of the 2009 law, also called Tier V overruled the Triborough Amendment.

Under the Triborough Amendment, contract terms for unionized public employees are followed in case of expiry of contract, and in absence of a new contract stipulating new terms.

In both of the cases, firefighters had been working under contracts, which had expired before Tier V was enacted, and their employment continued under the provisions of the Triborough Amendment.

  
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When the cities wanted them to make pension contributions the unions of the firefighters sought arbitration on whether they were required to pay three percent or not.

The unions for both groups of firefighters had argued that the contract terms were still in effect due to the Triborough Amendment, even after the expiry of the actual contracts of collective bargaining and that Tier V should not apply to their cases.

However, the court did not accept their arguments and said the cities could require them to make pension contributions under Tier V.

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Writing for the majority in the Yonkers case, Judge Eugene Pigott observed, “It is clear that the legislature intended to honor only agreements providing for non-contributory status that had not expired at the time the (2009) statute became effective.”

Pigott further observed that agreeing with the unions would create a “loophole whereby a union, by the simple expedient of refusing to reach an agreement on a new (contract), could ensure the continuation of non-contributory pension benefits to new hires, conceivably ad infinitum.”



However, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Judge Jenny Rivera dissented.

Lippman observed in the Yonker’s case, “Here, the union is seeking arbitration to interpret an existing (contract) provision, not to negotiate the terms of retirement benefits.” Lippman opined that under the Triborough Amendment, the contractual terms of the firefighters were still in effect and Tier V was not applicable to their cases.



 

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