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Unions accuse Hamburg supervisor of misconduct over health insurance rates

Hamburg union members Monday night accused Supervisor Steven J. Walters of unethical, deceitful and possibly illegal behavior in the manipulation of health insurance rates for employees.

Each of the five unions held votes of no confidence in the supervisor that were overwhelmingly approved last month, they said.

Walters, who called on each union representative during the public comment section of the Town Board meeting Monday night, denied that he did anything wrong and said that he would not resign.

“Everything that I’ve done has been for the taxpayers,” he said, adding that he was trying to keep taxes as low as possible. “Certainly, as we move forward, that will be my continued goal, my continued dedication is to the taxpayers of the Town of Hamburg.”

He listened to the five union representatives, sometimes raising an eyebrow or cocking his head at the charges.

Robert W. Mueller, Civil Service Employees Association labor relations specialist for two of the unions, said employees have a history of working with the town to save millions of dollars.

“What you have done here is destroy the trust necessary for that collaborative relationship,” Mueller said.

The unions said that after Walters received the 2016 insurance rates from BlueCross BlueShield last fall, he directed the town’s insurance broker to go back to the health insurer and change the rates. That change increased the employee contribution for many workers, and would have resulted in them paying about $80,000 more to the town.

But the unions objected, and the rates were returned to the original rates, workers said.

The plans are experience rated,” meaning they should be based on the claims history of town employees, said Catherine A. Creighton, attorney for the Command Officers Association.

“Obviously, such rates should not be subject to arbitrary manipulation,” she said.

Several representatives accused Walters of colluding with the insurance broker and insurance company. Thomas C. Boyer, president of the Hamburg Police Benevolent Association, accused the supervisor of “conspiring” with the two companies to “steal from our membership.”

“This action resulted in the PBA membership being distrustful of dealing with the supervisor going forward,” he said.

Denise I. Szymura, president of CSEA Erie County Local 815 who was speaking on behalf of the Hamburg White Collar unit, accused Walters of trying to conceal documents. She said his continued service would be a detriment to the integrity of his office and reputation of the town.

“CSEA believes that the best course of action is for Mr. Walters to tender his resignation to the Hamburg Town Board,” she said.

Walters said that the town is turning over documents to the unions but that some of them are hundreds of pages long, and have confidential information that must be redacted, which he said takes time.

Creighton asked the Town Board to conduct an independent investigation of the supervisor, insurance broker and insurance company for manipulating the rates. She said that the actions constitute a “terrible breach of trust” and asked that the board appoint someone else to negotiate with the unions until a resolution is reached. The union has asked federal and state agencies governing the industry to investigate the matter, she said.

About 209 employees would have been affected by the change in rates, including about 150 union members. The others are retirees and workers not covered by collective-bargaining agreements, union members said. If insurance rates could be so easily manipulated, union members said, the issue could affect all workers in the state.

Two residents said they supported the supervisor, and one of them called for an investigation.