Arbitrator rules against full retroactive pensions for prior MAST service

Kansas City municipal government does not have to provide full retroactive pensions to city ambulance workers for their prior MAST service, an arbitrator has ruled.

Arbitrator Robert Bailey ruled in favor of the city, and against Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, in a battle over pension payments for about 300 city ambulance workers who used to work for Metropolitan Ambulance Services Trust.

The ruling means the city will not have to provide pensions that had been estimated to cost $30 million over 10 years.

In a decision released Tuesday, Bailey said the union failed to meet its burden of proof that the city violated the collective bargaining or side-letter agreements regarding ambulance worker pensions.

In an effort to avoid arbitration, the City Council voted in June to give partial retroactive city pensions to the former MAST employees, who were folded into the city’s Fire Department in April 2010. They had not had a pension plan while working for MAST, and those supplemental city pensions are estimated to cost between $6 million and $10 million over 20 years.

But the union argued that the city had indicated its intent in labor negotiations to recognize 100 percent of the employees’ prior service with MAST. Union officials said the city failed to meet its obligation to provide that higher level of pension benefit.

The arbitrator agreed with the City Council that it had not approved the tentatively agreed-upon side-letters agreements and had not violated the collective bargaining agreement. His ruling, which he said was binding, found that the supplemental pension supplied by the city complied with the collective bargaining agreement’s requirements.

Mayor Sly James applauded the decision.

“In the end, we believed that our offer was fair, and the arbiter agreed with the council,” James said. “It represents a significant savings to the city that will be used to make our ambulance service even better.”

Local 42 President Louie Wright said he was surprised and “extremely disappointed.” He planned to meet with the union’s lawyers to consider possible legal options.