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Mayor Jerry Sanders said yesterday that the City Council’s vote to impose contracts on city workers late Tuesday will likely prompt lawsuits.

That’s because the plan includes provisions that some union officials say can’t be unilaterally imposed on them, including changes to retiree medical care.

The contracts imposed on police and blue-collar workers will freeze the city’s health care contribution, which is now $8,800 per retiree and was slated to increase up to 10 percent. The city also wants to meet with the unions to develop a defined-contribution medical plan for retirees.

“We want to take a couple of years to study it and negotiate it because we want to get a plan that meets the needs of our retirees but also shares the cost of that,” Sanders said.

Union officials have said the city can’t change retiree health care because it’s a right vested with employees when they join the city or that, at the very least, the city charter requires the membership to vote on the benefit.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith disagrees, saying a 1996 ballot measure changed the benefit. Goldsmith said the city has the right to alter it without a vote because it’s inconsistent with the city charter by not creating a system where employees and the city share the cost.

Even Sanders said last year that retiree health care is a vested, untouchable benefit. He now chalks that up to conflicting legal advice.

“I’ve had different city attorneys tell me different things, and I’ve had different labor attorneys tell me different things,” he said.

Sanders said he wants to work with the labor unions to “come up with a good system,” noting that he thinks many employees would be open to a system that allowed them to keep money saved up for retiree health care when they transfer jobs instead of having to work for the city long enough to qualify for retiree health care.

Regardless, Sanders said there will undoubtedly be a lawsuit “because someone can sue individually.”

“We know it will probably be up to a court to make the decision,” the mayor said.

RANI GUPTA

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