A member of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Union, Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and employee of the Staten Island Rapid Operating Transit Authority (SIRTOA) alleges in a proposed class action that the union misrepresented his eligibility for its short-term disability plan and ultimately denied his claim for benefits.
According to the 15-page suit, SMART-TD automatically enrolls members in its Voluntary Short-Term Disability (VSTD) welfare plan and charges a monthly $34.50 fee for plan benefits unless a member opts out of coverage. The plaintiff, a track worker, alleges that although SMART-TD represented he would be entitled to benefits for on- and off-the-job disabilities resulting from accidents or sickness, he was ultimately deemed ineligible after submitting a claim for a March 2020 work injury.
According to the case, SMART is a 203,000-member union representing sheet metal workers, service techs, bus operators, engineers, conductors, sign workers, welders and production workers. The SIRTOA, the suit says, is a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in charge of operating Staten Island, New York’s commuter rail line.
Defendant United Transportation Union Insurance Association, an insurance company, is wholly owned by SMART and sells insurance coverage through the union’s VSTD trust, the lawsuit notes.
According to the complaint, eligible employees are entitled to receive a maximum VSTD benefit of $450 per week for a period of up to 34 weeks. The plaintiff, who did not opt out of enrollment for VSTD benefits, says he was injured at work around March 5, 2020 and had his injury certified as a disability by a physician.
After completing and submitting the necessary paperwork for a short-term disability claim around March 26, the plaintiff contacted a VSTD plan representative around April 2 to determine the status of his claim, the lawsuit says. During this communication, the plaintiff was told his claim was denied given he was already receiving paid sick leave from the SIRTOA, according to the suit. The representative then accused the plaintiff trying to “double dip” despite the fact he was an eligible plan member and submitted a proper benefits claim in accordance with plan guidelines, the case says.
Thereafter, the plaintiff was advised to contact SMART’s insurance carrier, United Transportation Union Insurance Association, who, through a representative, informed the man that VSTD plan benefits are “a ‘loan’ that must be paid back,” the case says, relaying that this representation “also ran contrary to all the details previously provided to Plaintiff” about the short-term disability plan administered by SMART.
Per the suit, the plaintiff subsequently contacted United Transportation Union Insurance Association through his union rep, and was told by a company field supervisor that if a member claims disability for a job-related injury, that injury “falls under Workman’s Compensation,” meaning the individual would not have a valid claim for short-term disability plan benefits.
The lawsuit contends that this representation is additionally contradicted by VSTD plan documents and representations made by SMART prior to the plaintiff’s decision not to opt out of the plan.
After a chat with another UTUI field supervisor, the plaintiff learned the VSTD plan does not cover MTA employees, including those working for the SIRTOA. He was told SMART should not have enrolled Staten Island Transit workers in the VSTD and that a worker who received New York State and/or New York City Workers’ Comp benefits is not eligible for SMART short-term disability, the lawsuit says.
“These representations also were contrary to the VSTD Plan documents and the representations made by Defendant SMART before Plaintiff decided not to opt out of the Plan,” the suit claims.
The lawsuit looks to cover all individuals employed by the Staten Island Rapid Transit Authority and enrolled in the Voluntary Short-Term Disability plan.
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