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Transit workers' 'death gamble' bill passes legislature

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A bill that would grant full pension benefits to the families of New York City Transit Authority workers who work past retirement eligibility but die before retiring passed in both the Senate and the Assembly this week.

Currently, the beneficiaries of transit workers over the age of 55 who die before filing for retirement are only eligible for three years of their loved one’s salary instead of their full pension. The legislation, known as the “Death Gamble Bill,” would grant a lump sum in the amount of the full pension to transit workers’ families.

The bill passed in both houses Wednesday and is awaiting the signature of Governor Kathy Hochul.

Mike Carrube, who represents 4,200 transit employees as the president of the Subway Surface Supervisors Association, said that if enacted the legislation would be “a big victory for all transit workers.”

“We’re hoping that the governor recognizes that the good men and women of New York City Transit deserve this,” he said during a phone interview.

Carrube explained that transit workers who are eligible to retire but want to keep on working face a dilemma, because if they pass away before retiring, they could be leaving their spouse with significantly less money than the amount of their full pension. “Back in my father’s day, my grandfather’s day, 55 years old was an old man. But now, 55 is the new 40, and many workers don’t want to retire at 55,” he said.

He added that the change would not only benefit workers, “it actually benefits the Transit Authority because the most-experienced workers are staying on the job instead of retiring, and that expertise is priceless.”

Cops, firefighters have the benefit

New York City police officers, firefighters and teachers, as well as Nassau County and Suffolk County correction officers, are among the public employees who currently have “death gamble” benefits.

Carrube thanked Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato, the bill’s main sponsors. The union leader said the union began working with Gounardes to craft the legislation starting in 2017. 

“This is really about doing right by the public servants who have dedicated their lives to keep our transit system running,” Gounardes said in a statement. “Right now, they have to choose between their career and their families. This bill ensures these experienced workers get the same benefits as other public employees, and that they can continue their careers for as long as they’d like without worrying that their loved ones might get the short end of the stick.”

Although many other public employees currently have similar benefits, Hochul in January 2023 vetoed a "death gamble" bill that would have granted lump-sum benefits to the families of deceased Westchester corrections officers and wardens who were eligible for retirement. She cited the lack of a “funding source or plan to cover their costs in the current fiscal year or in future years,” as her reasons for rejecting the bill in her veto message.

If the bill does become law, the expected increase in contributions from the Transit Authority would be $4.1 million a year through 2036, dipping to $900,000 annually after that.

A spokesperson for Governor Hochul's office said that she would review the bill, but did not indicate whether she is supportive of the legislation.

Carrube said that he was “hopeful” the governor would sign onto the legislation that would address an issue that has existed throughout his entire 35-year career at the authority. “It’s a weight lifted off your back,” he said. “This is not just for supervisors — this will affect all transit workers, which is a great thing.”

clewis@thechiefleader.com

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