June 05--Attorneys for the cash-strapped City of North Las Vegas will try to convince a judge Friday to try to delay an arbitrator's award to a police officer's union that attorneys say could "push the city into the abyss of insolvency."
The award calls for the city to reimburse police officers for being forced to pay a portion of their medical benefits during the last year.
The hearing, for a motion to stay enforcement of the arbitrator's May 23 decision, will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday before Clark County District Judge Nancy Allf.
Rachel Bickle-Stone, an attorney for North Las Vegas, didn't have an exact dollar amount Tuesday morning on what the award's affect would be on the city's budget.
However, the city has been dealing with a budget crisis that could force it to lay off as many as 217 employees as it forces concessions out of its union groups.
James Margolin, the arbitrator, ruled that in 2011 the city "apparently intended to make an end-run" around the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association's refusal during the last three years to relieve the city of its contractual obligation to pay for 100 percent of the premiums for health care.
In 2011, the city created four medical benefit plans. The city paid 100 percent of the premiums of only one of those plans, which the union said was the least desirable of the four.
To get the best plan -- which is similar to what employees had the previous 10 years -- the officers had to contribute 20 percent of the premium cost.
The arbitrator's order calls for the city to give employees their money back within 30 days of each officer's request to be reimbursed.
Margolin's order also calls for allowing the police officers to join any of the more expensive health care plans at no cost. And the order calls for the city to provide the same level of medical coverage they provided officers when the contract was approved in 2007.
However, the city has filed legal papers to vacate the arbitrator's award, saying the arbitrator acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" and exceeded his power by effectively modifying a critical portion of the contract.
The city's attorneys will ask at Friday's hearing to delay the enforcement of the arbitrator's decision until they can argue against the arbitrator's decision in court.
The city doesn't specifically say how much reimbursing the employees would cost. But they do say that the arbitrator's decision is "far-reaching, severe" and "very expensive."
The city's attorneys also cited a May 16 Sun story that the city has announced plans to lay off 200 employees because of its budgetary concerns.
"Implementing the portion of the award requiring 2007-level medical insurance will cost (the city) an exorbitant amount of money," the motion states.
"The City has been on the brink of a state takeover for at least the last year. The devastating effects of the Award, as it is written, could push (the city) past the brink into the abyss of insolvency."
Grievance filed last year
According to court documents, the union, the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, filed a grievance June 16, 2011, with the police chief alleging the city had violated its collective bargaining agreement, which was in effect from 2007 to 2012.
The union contended that the city forced concessions in 2011. They say that happened when the city began offering four options for medical coverage. The city would pay 100 percent of the premiums for only an HMO plan.
But the union said the HMO plan was an "inferior" plan -- and if officers want similar coverage to what they had been getting in previous years, they had to pay part of the premiums.
In arguing before the arbitrator, the city contended that it didn't break the contract agreement because the two sides didn't negotiate for a specific insurance plan, a level of coverage or insurance provider. The city claimed it could choose the insurance program and change the terms and conditions of the program.
However, the POA argued that the agreement called for the city to pay 100 percent of the premium cost for medical, dental and vision coverage for peace officers and their eligible dependents. The POA said the through June 30, 2011, the city provided the POA with "a high quality, PPO medical insurance policy, and paid for 100 percent of the cost."
However, in an effort to cut labor costs in 2009, the city asked the POA for concessions and the POA agreed to various wage and benefit concessions.
One of the concessions was for the POA to share 5 percent of the cost of medical insurance for the policy in 2009-2010. However, the POA refused that request and the city asked for that concession again for the 2010-2011 fiscal year and the POA refused again.
Arbitrator: Number of plans don't matter
The arbitrator ruled that under the contract, even if the city offered four plans, it had to pay 100 percent of the premiums for each plan under the contract.
The arbitrator also said that a clause allowing the city to force the POA to pay a portion of the cost of medical insurance had been in a previous agreement. But that clause was negotiated out of two subsequent contracts so that no such clause currently exists, the arbitrator found.
"This is compelling evidence of the intent of the parties that the City should not be able to force the POA to pay any portion of the cost of medical insurance," the arbitrator wrote.
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