City Settles Healthcare Suit With Police, Fire Unions

After nearly a year long court battle, the City of Evansville has settled a lawsuit with the police and fire unions over the city's implementation of a more expensive healthcare plan. As part of the settlement, the members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 73 and International Association of Firefighters Local 357 will split among themselves a six-figure lump sum payment in addition to receiving raises in 2018.

In October 2016, the two unions sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the city's healthcare plan from taking effect. The new healthcare plan included substantial increases to the premiums and deductibles paid by city employees. Represented by attorneys Charlie Berger and Erin Bauer, the unions claimed the healthcare changes were passed by the city unilaterally and were in violation of the unions' respective collective bargaining agreements.

Judge Les Shively later denied the preliminary injunction but ordered the parties to re-open wage negotiations. 

"I believe the city's position was that it was a frivolous lawsuit that both unions filed," Berger said on Wednesday morning. "We're glad to be standing here and talk to you today stating that [the lawsuit] had some substance to it."

Over the past several months, the unions and city officials have entered into three mediation sessions with the most recent session occurring in late August. The members of the police and fire unions agreed on the proposed settlement earlier this month. As part of the settlement, the members of both unions will split a $300,000 lump sum payment in addition to a 1% wage increase. The pay raise would be in addition to any previously negotiated wage increases.

There are 265 active members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 73. The local firefighters union has 267 members. Additionally, 12 retirees from both unions will receive pro-rated portions of the lump sum payment. Only those members who were employed by either the police or fire departments in 2016 will be eligible for a portion of lump sum payment.  

"We thought it was a good result from a difficult journey the past 10 months," Berger said. "When you're the lowest paid police [department] and the 23rd lowest paid firefighter group in the state of Indiana, [the pay increase] helps a little bit. But it's really hard to get up in the morning -- it seems to me -- knowing that you're in the third largest city."

Larry Zuber, the president of the local fire union, described the settlement as palatable. 

"Some [members] have used the new healthcare system more than others but we had to reach a settlement that was good for everyone," Zuber said. "I think the city understands now that they can't just unilaterally change things in the contract. Hopefully this won't happen again and [the city] will give us a call or send us a letter and say, 'we need to look at this healthcare plan."

George Fithian, the executive director for the city's administrative services department, thinks its a fair settlement for all sides.

"I think the judge found it to be acceptable," Fithian said. "We're anxious to get the process in place to get payments made and this thing resolved."

Portions of the settlement still have to be approved by the City Council by way of an ordinance, Berger said.

The common council is expected to discuss the proposed ordinance next month and could likely suspend normal rules and pass the ordinance on first reading. If the council were to vote down the settlement, Judge Shively told attorneys he would make sure the civil case would be tried by the end of the year. 

A progress hearing to update the court on the City Council's vote has been scheduled for October 24th.

(This story was originally published on September 27th, 2017)

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