You would have thought that the de Blasio administration had not been involved in the discussions on an early-retirement-incentive—limited to city employees—that was part of the state budget adopted April 6, based on the Mayor's decidedly ambivalent comments about it a week later.
 
During a media briefing, he told reporters, "We are trying to look at it and decide if it is something that makes sense for New York City, and how to proceed. And we will be talking to our union partners."
 
The measure came to life late in the budget negotiations, at a point when some thought it had lost all momentum once the city's unions began cooperating in providing Mr. de Blasio with the $1 billion in savings he said he would need last summer to avoid having to lay off up to 22,000 workers unless the city got serious infusions of outside aid.
 
The unions held up a large part of their end by agreeing to $800 million in savings before President Biden's American Rescue Plan was approved on the strength of strictly Democratic votes in both houses of Congress. They had agreed to defer wage and benefit payments beyond the end of this fiscal year June 30 in return for a no-layoff guarantee through that date, with the promise that it would be extended for another year if the city received at least $5 billion in state and/or Federal aid. 
 
The city's share of the Federal relief exceeded $6 billion, and the larger chunk of aid that went to the state seemed to put an end to any worries that Governor Cuomo and state legislators would have to cut aid to the city and bring the total assistance below the required $5 billion. Yet there has been no announcement that the extra 12 months of no-layoff guarantee has been activated. 
 
The original discussions about the retirement incentive came about largely because of the unions' desire to find a way to cut the city payroll without resorting to layoffs. But even as the fiscal picture grew brighter once Democrats had control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, unions led by the United Federation of Teachers and District Council 37 continued to push the incentive.
 
It wasn't because they wanted to eat their cake and have it too. There was a concern that the Federal aid was a one-shot deal, with that $6 billion meant to deal with losses suffered due to the pandemic but not as a recurring package. And so if by next year city revenues had not perked up, the unions did not want to have to make further deferrals of wages and benefits to head off layoffs.
 
The early-retirement incentive, under which the city would take an extra hit on pension costs in the short term but save more overall by having workers take advantage of up to three years' additional pension credit tied to years of service and either replacing them with people at entry-level salaries or letting some positions remain vacant, seemed a logical solution.
 
And so the Mayor's professions of uncertainty don't ring entirely true. We would have assumed the administration sounded out agencies about whether they could afford to lose senior workers in greater numbers than usual, and in which titles, at some point after the unions first raised the issue last summer.
 
Is it simply a question of wanting to gauge agency sentiment now that the incentive is a reality? A desire to cool down some of the euphoria the news produced among more-senior workers because a good number of them could wind up disappointed because their agencies have already indicated they can't afford to lose employees in key titles, particularly after having been limited for the past year in how many vacancies could be filled?
 
Or is there something the Mayor wants from the unions before he opens the gates on the retirement incentive, such as a deal on health benefits that has already provoked anxiety and anger from retirees and their advocates?
 
The intrigue is deepened by what we're told is language in the bill stating that to be eligible to participate in the program, employees have to be in positions that were originally slated for layoffs. Were lists of vulnerable job titles compiled and shared with union officials at any point?
 
And finally, there's one other element that raises eyebrows. When the city insisted that the program not be open to uniformed employees, among those who were excluded from eligibility were Emergency Medical Service workers. 
 
Under a City Council bill passed during the Bloomberg administration, they were entitled to uniformed status, but they still are treated like civilian employees for bargaining purposes, much to the frustration of their unions.
 
So was EMS left out because ongoing contract talks could result in the administration giving them the same pay pattern as uniformed workers rather than the slightly less-generous terms obtained by civilian unions, including the EMS unions' parent, District Council 37?
 
It's a lot to think about.   

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