Thursday, February 19, 2009
Support Growing For Scarsdale PBA In
Dispute With Village Administration
Some weeks ago several police officers from the Scarsdale Village Police Department, as well as other departments in Westchester, showed up at a regular session of the Village Board. The issue that brought them out, without prior notice, involved their concerns about provisions in the Scarsdale Union contract as related to General Municipal Law 207c, Disability And Health Insurance Coverage For Police Officers Injured In The Line Of Duty. Scarsdale Officer Ron Arefieg, injured while dealing with a serious domestic violence call, and recuperating from surgery, was the central figure in what appeared to be a much broader dispute.
The president of the Scarsdale PBA, Officer Jose Santos, had issued a statement to the press regarding Officer Arefieg which said, “Officer Arefieg elected General Municipal Law 207c coverage while he would be recuperating at home. Forty-seven years ago, Governor Rockefeller enacted this law to recognize the hazardous duties performed by law enforcement. The Human Resources Director, Michael De-Long, has decided to discontinue
the employer-provided health insurance previously provided to our officers. Under our collective bargaining agreement, the Village of Scarsdale is bound to pay the employer portion of our officers’ health insurance.”
The statement went on to declare “Village officials are playing a shell game” and that the Village Administration was, “without the legal authority to offer a choice between Worker’s Compensation and GML 207c.” Officer Arefieg emphasized, at our meeting, that the issue wasn’t about him but rather the broader issue between the union and municipal government agencies.
Having met with Officer Arefieg, PBA President Santos and Union attorney Tom Troett, the Guardian then sat down with Village Manager Al Gatta and Human Resources Director Mike DeLong, jointly, to get their take on the matter.
We asked, “The Scarsdale PBA says that they will not permit Village Government to intimidate its members by agreeing to meet its contractual obligation to provide health insurance only if the injured police officer accepts Worker’s Compensation, and not 207c; is that true?” Mike DeLong responded, “Let me be clear and unambiguous. Once he [Arefieg] requested 207c, we had to investigate to determine it was a 207c. It was incurred on the job.”
Village Manager Al Gatta then joined in, “He has a belief that in two years, five years, he would be discharged. He’s a member of the union, and 207c has caused a lot of grief.”
We asked, “Is it inaccurate to say that the Village is only willing to comply with their contractual agreement to contribute their share to the continuance of injured police of-ficers’ health insurance if the of-ficer is willing to waive 207c with its higher compensation as compared with the $550 per week provided by Worker’s Compensation?”
DeLong then said, “After one year, he could be suspended, but he wouldn’t be. The chief told him so.”
We inquired as to Officer Arefieg’s then-current circumstances, and was told by Manager Gatta that he was receiving his full pay and that the Village was paying his and his family’s medical insurance, and would be continuing to do so.
The Administration’s position was that Officer Arefieg was essentially being used as a representative case by various police unions in their combined desire to protect and strengthen General Municipal Law 207c.
Re-contacted last Thursday, PBA President Santos informed us that, as of January 27th, Police Officer Ron Arefieg had exhausted his medical coverage under the Family Medical Leave Act. He made the following statement: “The Village of Scarsdale has decided to stand alone regarding
207c benefits. The Village is without legal authority to offer Worker’s Compensation. As a result, this mean-spirited decision has instilled a fear in our police officers that they may jeopardize their family health insurance coverage if they sustain a serious injury while in the performance of their duties.”
Santos indicated that the PBA had received more than 500 support cards from Scarsdale families, and that some 529 individuals had signed the PBA’s online petition. Additionally, he stated that at least 25 Village merchants were displaying PBA support signs in their windows.