On appeal from the Public Employment Relations Commission, Agency Docket No. SN-2011-016.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted on August 22, 2012
Before Judges Simonelli and Waugh.
Petitioner Township of Voorhees (Township) appeals from the final agency determination of the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) denying its application for an order restraining binding arbitration of a grievance filed by respondents, which are bargaining units representing police officers of various ranks employed by the Township. We affirm.
We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.
The Township and respondents Voorhees Police Senior Officers Association, Voorhees Township Sergeants Association, and Voorhees Township Police Officers' Association are parties to three separate collective bargaining agreements (CBA). Two of the CBAs cover the period from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2009, and the third covers the period from January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2012. All of the respondent bargaining units are affiliated with respondent Fraternal Order of Police -New Jersey Labor Council (FOP), which filed the grievance at issue on their behalf.
The FOP contends that each of the CBAs at issue requires the Township to maintain prescription co-payment reimbursement plans for retired Voorhees police officers at the same level that was in effect at the time of each employee's retirement date. According to the FOP, past practice and a 2008 grievance settlement agreement between the Township and the FOP prohibit any diminution of health benefits for retirees who were covered by the CBAs after their retirement.
On April 13, 2010, the Township sent a letter to its retirees informing them that, effective July 1, it would "no longer be reimbursing retirees for prescription co-payments in excess of the co-payments provided through the State Health Benefits Program." According to the letter, the change was due to budgetary constraints. On May 11, the FOP filed a joint grievance on behalf of its three bargaining units.
After an unsuccessful attempt to settle the grievance, the FOP filed a request for binding arbitration with PERC on July 14. On August 31, the Township filed a petition for scope of negotiations determination, seeking a determination that the grievance was not subject to binding arbitration because the issues raised were within the Township's discretion and not within the scope of negotiations. The parties agreed to defer the arbitration hearing until PERC issued its determination.
PERC issued its decision on September 22. PERC found that "[t]he parties' collective negotiations agreements contain provisions dealing with medical insurance for retirees." It found that, in line with its previous decisions, the FOP "has a cognizable interest in ensuring that retired employees receive whatever retirement benefits were contracted for in the agreement that was in effect at the time an employee retired." It refused to restrain the arbitration. This appeal followed.
The Township argues on appeal that the FOP lacks standing to assert claims on behalf of retirees, that retirement benefits are not a mandatory topic of negotiation, and that a prescription reimbursement program is a supplemental benefit such that "[o]ne could conclude that" the ...