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June 2011
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Government Public Employees Brace for Massive Pension Reforms

Union reps say they shouldn’t be punished for a debt they did not cause

From | Article By Cleon Alert | June 1, 2011b

Looks like public employee pensions are the next in line for cuts, in the governor’s efforts to offset New York’s struggling economy.

A new proposal introduced last week by Cuomo (and that was quickly embraced by Bloomberg) outlined a pension system that would decrease retirement costs by $93 billion over 30 years.

And despite a few concessions on behalf of union workers, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pension reform plan has been met with huge resistance.

The so-called “Tier 6” plan would up the retirement age to 65 for all city workers (except police officers and firefighters), remove overtime wages from the pension calculation to stop “padding” or “spiking,” end unused sick leave in determining pension allowances, and force new hires to pay out more for their pension plans.

Since his first term, Bloomberg has been critical of funding pensions for retirees, claiming that it’s a huge burden to taxpayers and thereby impacts public services.

“We’re very happy that Governor Cuomo has included the city in his proposal,” said Bloomberg spokesman Mark LaVorgna, “which is something that the mayor has spoken to him about many times. And they agree that we need some reform otherwise it’s going to gobble up all of the city resources eventually.”

According to Bloomberg, pension costs have risen from $1.5 billion dollar a year in city taxpayer money, in the mayor’s first year in office, to now $8.4 billion dollars in next year’s budget.

Barred by state law to negotiate directly with the unions, the mayor feels that there’s no way the City can afford to keep the current system.

“Pension costs are eating up larger and larger chunks of dollars that would be used to pay for services, teachers, firefighters, police officers,” said LaVorgna. “Everything else the city does is going to pay retiree costs which limits the ability of the city’s provided services.”

However, union workers are enraged at the pension proposal, saying that they shouldn’t be blamed for the city’s financial problems.

“Hard working civil servants didn’t cause the economic collapse, so why should our retirement and family’s welfare pay for it?” said Bed-Stuy resident Michael McCasland, president-elect of union chapter 39, Local 375. “If the city would raise some taxes on the extremely rich just moderately, these pension reforms could be avoided.”

McCasland also argues that the city has lost hundreds of millions of dollars on outside consulting projects as well as has failed to enforce laws, such as ad billboard advertising, that could generate revenue.

And despite the powerful union’s reputation for being resistant to negotiate with state legislators, McCasland says that’s not the case.

“Many of us are willing to negotiate, because we are all in this together,” said McCasland.

“For instance, some union members would be willing to contribute to the pension for their career, so as to help relieve the government. But the union recognizes that the powers that be have other options. Much of this is union and public sector bashing,” McCasland said.

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