Thousands of city employees may have the option to retire early while getting up to 36 months' additional pension credit under a provision included in the state's $212-billion budget that was approved April 6.
The Municipal Labor Committee since last summer had urged the de Blasio administration to consider an early-retirement incentive at a time when it was threatening up to 22,000 layoffs unless it got at least $1 billion in savings from the unions to close what then loomed as a $9-billion city budget gap caused by a drop in tax revenues caused by the impact of the coronavirus on the city's economy.
Unions Kept Pressing
The layoffs were avoided after many of the unions agreed to defer wages and fringe benefits that would have come due in the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30, producing $800 million in short-term savings for the city as it awaited relief from the Federal Government.
But even after the city's share of the American Rescue Plan that was approved by slim, all-Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress at President Biden's request, District Council 37 and the United Federation of Teachers pressed their case for an early-retirement incentive in Albany.
The measure they obtained will not be extended to the city's uniformed workers, and Mayor de Blasio and municipal-agency heads have discretion as to which job titles will be offered the incentive, according to Brooklyn Assemblyman Peter Abbate, who chairs the Committee on Governmental Employees and was the bill’s prime sponsor.
“As an example, he [the Mayor] could say I don’t want to include Health + Hospitals right now because of COVID-19,” he said during an April 7 phone interview. “He has to also pick two dates now; a date for when city employees can start applying and a cutoff day."
How Credit is Computed
Mr. Abbate continued, “There are two parts; Part A is for those 55 years of age with 25 years of service in, and Part B—you get one month for each year you worked up until three years. You can only pick one of them, and it’s the city’s option who they want to offer it to.”
He expressed the hope that the incentive would provide relief for veteran front-line city workers “burned out” by the pandemic after falling ill with the virus. “Some of them really went through a lot and are just in fear of going back into the office,” he said.
More than 300 city workers died from COVID and thousands more were sidelined, some of whom are still convalescing.
According to State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, chair of his house's Committee on Civil Service and Pensions, the legislation was necessary “because the city is not out of the fiscal woods yet." If conditions worsened, reducing the payroll through additional retirements because of the incentive would help the city avoid laying off newer employees and “incentivize the next generation into staying with public service,” he said.
Money-Saver in Past
More than six months ago Republican City Council Member Joseph Borelli maintained the program had the potential to yield hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings, citing a 2010 incentive authorized by then-Gov. David Paterson. He said more than 9,300 city and state workers took advantage, and even with the added pension costs, the net payroll savings of $680 million annually for the state and city made it a worthwhile program.
In a statement, Henry Garrido, the executive director of DC 37, said the retirement incentive was “not only fair, but also just” for the “unsung heroes of New York City” who kept the city’s “round-the-clock essential services” running throughout the pandemic.
United Probation Officers Association President Dalvanie Powell said, "Giving hardworking civil servants the option of an early retirement will help the city maintain essential services. reduce spending and do right by the workers who have bravely and selflessly served our community."
Joe Puleo, president of DC 37 Local 983, who pushed hard for the retirement incentive, said in a text message, “A lot of eligible members now feel they have taken control of their future.”
EMS Union: Why Not Us?
During an April 7 phone interview Anthony Almojera, vice president of DC 37 Local 3621, which represents Emergency Medical Service officers, protested the exclusion of that union's members based on their being considered uniformed workers.
“They want the best of both worlds,” he said of city officials. “They offer us a lower civilian wage package contractually, but then they say we are uniformed services for the purpose of denying us early retirement.”
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