Association of Hialeah Retired Municipal Employees
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Hialeah officials approved a new law for how its pension programs are changed, while the city’s unions objected and the police union promised legal action

The Miami Herald
Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hialeah altered how pension programs can be changed, despite objections from unions. The move sparked a vow of legal action from at least one union: the Police Benevolent Association.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Hialeah City Council unanimously approved two new ordinances that eliminate language requiring approval from all three bargaining units for amendments to pension plans for general employees, firefighters and police. That language was added to city code in 1992.

Now, under the newly approved ordinances, any amendments will be subject to collective bargaining with approval needed from only the respective union.

The change comes amid stalled and tense contract negotiations between Hialeah and its three unions for city employees, police and firefighters.

William Grodnick, Hialeah’s city attorney, said the new city law corrects language that he called unlawful and unconstitutional under the state’s right to work law.

”It abridges the rights of unions. It gives a stranger to negotiations — another union — the veto power to determine changes to the pension plan,” Grodnick explained to the council.

Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina said permanent changes to retirement plans would still be negotiated. ”We cannot do that on our whim,” Robaina said.

Hialeah Lt. Rick Fernandez, a union representative for the Police Benevolent Association, said the timing of the change — during contract negotiations — was ”poor.”

Fernandez asked the council to reconsider its move and echoed concerns he and other union leaders had made clear at a previous council meeting. ”By doing this, you’re violating the laws of this city,” Fernandez said, adding the old process ”is not contrary to state law.”

Andrew Axelrad, general counsel for the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, which represents Hialeah police officers, told The Miami Herald that he plans to fight the city’s latest action in court.

”We don’t think what the council has done is legal,” Axelrad said.

Hialeah seems prepared for that. Grodnick told the council the new law has the support of an outside pension expert and outside labor counsel, William Radford.

”We can test it in court,” Grodnick said.