Approximately one year ago, we wrote an article explaining the state of collective bargaining and retirement benefits law in the Sixth Circuit (the article is accessible here). On May 30, 2019, the Michigan Supreme Court issued its decision on the same general topic in Kendierski v Macomb Co, Docket No. 156086 (2019). The Kendierski court, like the Sixth Circuit panels in the cases we examined, analyzed the question of whether retirement benefits granted through a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) survive the expiration of that CBA.
The Sixth Circuit’s Tackett line of cases established that a CBA’s generational duration clause controls the duration of the CBA’s terms, unless a term contains specific durational language. For example, if a CBA provides that an employee’s spouse will receive benefits after the employee is deceased, and the contract does not specify the length of that benefit, then the spouse is only entitled to that benefit during the period of the CBA. Kendierski made clear that the same principle applies when Michigan courts analyze legal challenges on this topic.
Kendierski is the natural result of the current legal interpretation of CBA benefits. Because it comes as no surprise, it may have no impact on the negotiating tactics unions use at the bargaining table with public school employers. However, Lusk Albertson emphasizes that clients should be aware of this strain of cases, given the possibility that unions may seek to insert specific durational language regarding retirement benefits (e.g., “lifetime” benefits). As always, seek legal counsel if questions arise on this topic.
The decision may be accessed here.