NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 9, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. L-5352-11.
Terri Keller, Assistant Corporation Counsel, argued the cause for appellant (William Matsikoudis, Corporation Counsel, attorney; Ms. Keller, on the brief).
Stephen B. Hunter argued the cause for respondent Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association (POBA) (Detzky & Hunter, LLC, attorneys; Mr. Hunter, of counsel and on the brief).
Lauren Sandy argued the cause for respondent Jersey City Police Superior Officers Association (PSOA) (Loccke, Correia, Limsky & Bukosky, attorneys; Ms. Sandy, of counsel and on the brief).
Paul L. Kleinbaum argued the cause for respondent Uniformed Firefighters Association of Jersey City, Local 1066, IAFF, AFL-CIO, CLC (Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum & Friedman, attorneys; Mr. Kleinbaum and Genevieve Murphy-Bradacs, on the brief).
Bruce D. Leder argued the cause for respondent Jersey City Fire Officers Association, Local 1064, IAFF, AFL-CIO, CLC (Cohen, Leder, Montalbano & Grossman, attorneys; Mr. Leder, on the brief).
Paul W. Mackey, attorney for respondent Jersey City Public Employees, Inc., Local 246.
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Haas.
In this appeal, plaintiff, the City of Jersey City ("Jersey City"), appeals from the trial court order dismissing its declaratory judgment action in which it sought to proceed summarily in the Superior Court, Law Division, to resolve grievances filed by defendants, Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association (POBA), Jersey City Police Superior Officers Association (PSOA), the Uniform Firefighters Association Local 1066 (Local 1066), the Jersey City Fire Officers Association Local 1064 (Local 1064), and the Jersey City Public Employees, Inc. Local 246 (Local 246), collectively referred to as "defendants, " with the Public Employees Relations Commission ("PERC"). We affirm, substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Lawrence Maron in his January 23, 2013 oral opinion.
Beginning in 1973, Jersey City was authorized to provide eligible retired employees with free health care under the State Health Benefits Plan (SHBP). As part of its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with each defendant, lifetime health benefits were provided to employees who retired with at least twenty-five years of service. In 2007, however, the City withdrew from the SHBP, choosing instead to administer its own health benefits plans for employees, purportedly saving the City approximately seven million dollars in the first year.
Between 2008 and 2010, the City engaged in collective bargaining negotiations with defendants. The new CBAs, as proposed, included the provision in each agreement that would switch all employees from a "traditional plan, " where employees could see any physician and have 80% of the charges covered, to a "direct access plan, " where the provider would pay all expenses except for a $10 co-payment if the employees chose from a network of listed physicians. Coverage for retirees would also switch to the direct access plan, but they had the option of continuing the traditional plan as long as ...