Despite the cold and windy conditions, CSEA representatives gathered in front of the Rockland County Courthouse on Friday afternoon to hold a press conference announcing the lawsuit they just filed against County Executive Scott Vanderhoef.
Vanderhoef eliminated the county’s in-house pharmacy, a longstanding benefit.
Attorneys for the union filed an Article 78 action in Rockland County Supreme Court on Friday charging Vanderhoef violated county law with his closure of the county pharmacy.
“We’re looking for reinstatement of the pharmacy and reinstatement of the medication at no cost,” said Paul Bamberger, CSEA senior counsel. “There is a law, which is passed by the county legislature, that says the county executive has to provide these benefits … the county executive is not following the law.”
The lawsuit was filed for both the current workers and retirees, Bamberger added.
“We spoke with (Vanderhoef) after he announced the pharmacy closure to remind him of the existing county laws providing for the pharmacy benefit and to give him a chance to put a stop to his plan,” said CSEA Southern Region President Billy Riccaldo. “His Refusal to obey these particular laws has forced us to pursue legal action to ensure CSEA’s active members and retirees regain access to a benefit guaranteed to them under law.”
County Attorney Jeffrey J. Fortunato issued the following statement on Friday in regards to this.
“We have not yet been served with any papers signed by a Judge so we cannot comment on CSEA's actions. However, we have stated from the beginning that any past practice with respect to the employee pharmacy is not enforceable against the County due to:"
- Clear and unequivocal language set forth in the collective bargaining agreement with respect to the prescription drug plan
- Management's rights language contained within thecollective bargaining agreement affording broad discretion to make managerial decisions suchas program terminations
- The potential gifting of public funds.
"Accordingly the County may take unilateral action without prior negotiation with the union," said Fortunato.
This was a benefit that was given to the employees by the legislature in 1983 for insurance purposes, said Riccaldo. He added that this benefit helps employees pay for other things, such as tuition, daycare and little league for their kids.
“This is also a violation of the trust the employees have in their government because they’ve promised something for years and now they’re taking it out,” said PT Thomas, CSEA Rockland Co-Unit President. He added that he’s gotten numerous calls from union members saying that they’re now having to choose between feeding their families or buying prescription drugs for their families. “And in the 1980s, they had to give up their salary increase to get this benefit.”
“As a county retiree on a fixed income, the pharmacy closure will have a tremendous impact on me and so many of my former county co-workers,” said Larry Rees, a lifelong Rocklander and 32-year county employee who relies on the county pharmacy for numerous prescriptions each month. “Once I received the notice of the pharmacy closure, I called another local pharmacy and found out that the co-pay for one particular medication alone will be $90. There are going to be people who are just unable to fill their prescriptions because they cannot afford the co-pays. Retirees had no way of planning for this expense because we were assured the pharmacy was a benefit guaranteed to us.”
The CSEA said that on Jan. 4, 2013, Vanderhoef issued a memo announcing his plan to close the county pharmacy and end the practice of employees and retirees being able to fill prescriptions there with no added co-pay; this violated several laws passed by legislators:
- Resolution No. 647 of 1985, which authorized the county pharmacy to fill prescriptions of employees using the county health insurance plan if the employee chose that pharmacy, and which waived the co-payment
- Resolution No. 630 of 1989, which exteneded the pharmacy benefit to all county employees
- Resolution No. 545 of 2003, which affirms the legislature’s opposition to “any unilateral curtailment reduction or undermining of any such benefits to the detriment of our past or present employees without negotiated agreement with and by those employees.”
- In addition, the CSEA said that legislators amended Rockland County Code in 2005 to state that county retirees with the required years of service to be eligible for retirement benefits should receive the “same level of health benefits consistent with past practice they received on the last day of their employment, which shall be continued upon retirement.”
“The pharmacy closure impacts a lot of people, but it has been most harmful to the residents of this county who retired from county service, live on a fixed income, and had no way to budget for this unexpected prescription drug cost that Mr. Vanderhoef blindsided them with,” said Riccaldo. “This really shows a lack of respect for so many people who gave so much of themselves to this county.”