MAYOR BRINDLE’S STATEMENT ON PBA HEALTH CARE CONTRACT PROVISIONS
DECEMBER 3, 2018
In addition to last week’s statement provided by our Town Administrator and PBA President, I would also like to add some further clarity to the ongoing media inquiries regarding health benefits for the Lieberman family. I do not take providing additional personnel details lightly; however, I would like to shed light on our labor contracts, which are already public. Additionally, in this case, an abundance of misinformation continues to circulate and, as Mayor, I operate from a place of facts. As such, the public has a right to know how we care for our employees while responsibly managing taxpayer dollars.
First and foremost, contrary to some reports, the Lieberman family has never been in danger of losing their health insurance. Our focus since Detective Lieberman’s untimely death has been on finding a resolution to this terrible and rare situation, well before any media attention was involved. The following is intended to summarize the issue at hand and communicate how we plan on resolving it in collaboration with our PBA partner.
To reiterate, we are trying to solve for a horrific circumstance where Detective Lieberman tragically died in May at the age of 47, leaving behind a spouse and two sons. This specific scenario -- one in which a police officer who was eligible to retire, but for his own reasons elected not to do so, and died as an active employee -- is not one that has ever occurred in Westfield, which is why it hasn’t previously been contemplated in the Town’s union contracts.
Mrs. Lieberman, as her husband’s beneficiary, is receiving the following benefits provided by the State of New Jersey Division of Pensions and Federal law that apply to active officers regardless of retirement eligibility:
• A life insurance payout at 3.5 times her husband’s annual salary
• Approximately 80% of her husband’s pension for life
• Three years of COBRA health insurance, if she elects to accept it, with a market rate premium contribution (which is about double what Detective Lieberman was paying as an officer)
These are the same benefits offered to, and accepted by, the families of our fallen firefighters, three of whom we lost in the last eight years. The intention of the higher life insurance payout for active officers is to provide financial peace of mind for the family, including offsetting costs for things like increases in healthcare premiums.
For context, if Detective Lieberman had been retired when he passed away, Mrs. Lieberman would have received the following:
• A life insurance payout of 1.5 times, instead of 3.5 times, her husband's salary
• 100% of her husband’s pension for life
• Health insurance benefits until the age of 65 with a reduced contribution (about 30% of the COBRA premium)
I am sharing this context so that the public may understand that each provision relates to another, and it is hard to solve for one issue without unintended consequences for another one.
That being said, Detective Lieberman’s untimely death revealed an unintended gap in our health insurance benefit plan for the families of retirement eligible officers who die while still employed by the Town. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to address this gap as we are in the process of finalizing our FMBA (Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association) contract, and are entering into negotiations with the PBA, whose contract expires at the end of this month. As a result, we have already been working on solutions with both unions to close the financial gap in coverage that this experience has revealed.
Regarding Mrs. Lieberman, we had already let her know that if she elects COBRA coverage, no contribution is required in 2019 before April 1, at a minimum, to allow the Town and the PBA to agree on a solution for her family and any other similar situation that may happen in the future. Any report that the Town is expecting a $25,000 health insurance premium payment in January is simply untrue.
Lastly, while many who are less informed about the actual facts are demanding an immediate solution, please know that I am not able to do this unilaterally and without the partnership of the PBA and the input of the Town Council – nor would it be appropriate for me to do so. There is no daylight between the Town and the PBA, which represents all of our police officers, regarding our mutual commitment to doing the right thing for the Lieberman family and for all of those who bravely serve. Any solution we reach concerning contribution rates and length of coverage will be retroactive to January 1, 2019 and apply to the Lieberman family.
This has been a tough few weeks for the fine men and women of our police department who continue to grieve the loss of one of their own. I have seen first-hand their grief and commitment to honor Detective Lieberman’s memory, and have heard from many of them how discouraging it is to have the PBA and the Town administration be accused of abdicating their responsibility for his family’s care.
I gave Tammy Lieberman my personal commitment to ensure her family would be cared for when I first spoke to her several months ago. As the daughter of a young widow myself, I recognize the fear of a mom who is afraid of leaving her children parentless and I am committed to providing her peace and security.
Thanks to everyone in our community for your care, compassion and concern.