Changes to certain Tompkins Cortland Community College retiree’s healthcare plans have spurred ire among some of the school’s most prominent figures, including longtime president Carl E. Haynes, culminating in a lawsuit filed last month seeking to stop the changes.
The plaintiffs in the suit are nine former executive level employees of the college who complain that the college has breached its contract with the employees by changing their healthcare coverage options. The suit asks for a preliminary injunction preventing the school from implementing their proposed changes, which were originally outlined in an Aug. 30 letter from the school. The suit was filed Nov. 26.
Haynes, who worked for the school for 48 years, appears to be leading the suit, joined by former Dean of Instruction Carl Penziul, former Dean of External Relations Bruce Ryan, former Dean of Student Life John Bradac, former Dean of Organizational Success Kathryn (Khaki) Wunderlich, former Provost John Connors, and three others—Martin Cristofferson, James Hull and Walter Pollard—whose former positions at the school weren’t immediately clear, though they presumably held executive level positions. They’re being represented by Ithaca law firm Miller Mayer.
According to Haynes’ letter dated Nov. 4, the college originally planned to change healthcare coverage for all retirees from the college, but after backlash from the various unions that represent the impacted staff (Haynes’ affidavit names them as the Faculty Association (FA), Professional Administrators Association (PAA) and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)), soon rescinded those changes for all retirees except the executive level staff, for which the changes were kept in place. The exact changes are two-fold: the school would “no longer reduce healthcare premiums for the cost of Medicare Part B coverage,” and the traditional Blue Cross Blue Shield Classic Blue plan would no longer be offered through the college for retirees.
The gist of the executive retirees’ complaint is that they allege the contracts they signed with the college stipulate that they are to receive the same healthcare benefits as PAA retirees, though they now would not be. They argue that they are guaranteed access to the healthcare plan options that were available when they retired, especially now that the plans are being kept in place for all the other retirees.
The only reasoning available for the switch appears to be financial, with the school citing that it is unable to shoulder the burden of the previously offered healthcare plans anymore. Of course, Haynes points out that now that the school has rescinded the changes to the other retirees, only the nine executive level retirees remain out of the 250 or so retirees total, so whatever money the school is saving is likely not that significant, but the college apparently remains unswayed.
“We all have some general understanding that the college continues to face financial challenges and we are empathetic to those charged with solving those difficulties,” Haynes wrote in a letter to the school. “However, the college made commitments to us at the times of our retirements, express agreements that we have relied on in our retirement planning. We are a small fraction of total retirees and are not asking for special treatment, just for the same benefits that the college has already agreed to provide to all other administrative retirees. Failure to afford us the same benefits and conditions as PAA retirees is a breach of the conditions of our employment and retirement.”
The college acknowledges its financial issues in a response letter to Haynes. The main documents submitted thus far in the suit are correspondence between Haynes and the school on the matter, plus letters regarding Wunderlich’s retirement in 2018, and her retirement agreement, illustrating the typical retirement agreement each executive retiree had in place and the guarantees made therein.
“The Board recognizes the concerns the executive retirees have raised and the decision making that will be needed to assess plan options,” a letter from the school’s Board of Trustees reads. “The College has reviewed the plan options, the associated premium costs as well as the current fiscal challenges. It is for this very reason why the Board has decided to support the position of the current college administration [...] This is not a decision that we relish. Our healthcare costs have skyrocketed from eight percent of the overall operating budget three years ago to 12 percent today.”
TC3, current president Dr. Orinthia Montague, Board of Trustees President Ray Schlachter and several others are named as defendants, though they may all soon be dropped from the case, leaving the school as the lone defendant. When contacted, the school declined to comment, citing a policy of not addressing ongoing litigation. Anthony Ellia, the attorney representing the retirees, could not be reached for comment in time for this issue.