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LOOKING FOR AN EXIT SIGN: This veteran city employee could be among thousands who would consider retiring if a bill offering up to three years' additional pension credit were passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo as a way of avoiding major layoffs due to the city's $9-billion budget deficit.

The municipal unions are backing a bill introduced in Albany that offers an early-retirement incentive of up to three years of additional pension credit to tens of thousands of civil servants who are at least 55 years of age and have logged 25 years of service or are otherwise eligible to retire.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Chairman of the Committee on Civil Service and Pensions, and Assemblyman Peter Abbate, who heads the the Committee on Governmental Employees, drafted the measure they estimate will save the city hundreds of millions of dollars and help close its $9-billion budget gap.

 

Offered to Civilian Staff

The incentive is being offered to civilian employees who are enrolled in the New York City Employees' Retirement System, the city Teachers' Retirement System and the Board of Education Retirement System.

There is a carve-out provision that permits the city to reject an early-retirement request if the applicant "holds a position that is deemed critical to the maintenance of public health and safety."

In 2010, when a retirement incentive was offered statewide, $681 million was saved over two years.

"A public health-crisis has caused a fiscal crisis, and to fight it, we need to be resourceful and use every tool available to us to prevent layoffs," Mr. Gounardes said. "An Early Retirement Incentive saves jobs while providing public employees an option to retire early that they may wish to take."

The bill's supporters hope it will provide an off-ramp for thousands of older civil servants who have pre-existing health conditions and might be more susceptible to the coronavirus.

'Already Lost Hundreds'

"We have already lost several hundred public employees in New York City to COVID," Senator Gounardes said during a phone interview. "We have many people that have still had to be out there on the front lines doing their job and are obviously vulnerable to this virus, so this will also help them."

According to the estimates in the bill, 34,700 employees of the more-than 75,600 who are eligible would opt to take advantage. The average age of the early-retirement program participants is projected to be 60.8 years old, with an average of 26.3 years on the job and a $91,000 average salary.

After getting $450 million in short-term savings when an arbitrator's ruling allowed the city to delay paying half of its $900-million retroactive wages obligation to the United Federation of Teachers, Mayor de Blasio stepped up efforts to get relief from other city unions while waiting on possible Federal aid and authorization of $5 billion in additional borrowing authority from Albany.

"The COVID-19 global pandemic has crippled our city's economy," District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said in a statement in support of the early-retirement bill. "Municipal workers, who guided this city through the darkest days of the pandemic, are now in danger of losing their jobs at the worst possible time. That is why this Early Retirement Incentive legislation is so important."

UFT: A Dual Benefit

"In times of fiscal stress, measures like this have helped local governments maintain services even as they reduced spending," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, adding that the bill "would provide a welcome additional incentive for educators who want to retire early, and at the same time help our city and school system deal with the current financial crisis."

"Employee layoffs are detrimental to the city economy, the provision of services and the workers," Municipal Labor Committee Chairman Harry Nespoli said.

But Sen. James Sanders warned that the bill could hurt some agencies, saying, "Sadly, some of your most capable workers will leave. Anytime a bureaucracy divests itself there are problems that come along with that...We will lose a certain amount of institutional memory."


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