Capital News 4:10 p.m. | Jan. 7, 2015

 

Uniformed pension proposal gains critical mass on Council

By Gloria Pazmino

William Alatriste
Elizabeth Crowley.

A City Council resolution to ask the state increase disability pensions for uniformed city workers will be considered in committee, despite opposition from the mayor's office and a non-position, so far, from the Council speaker.

Passage of the resolution would be a victory for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which has been lobbying the Council and City Hall to pass it, even as its leader has feuded publicly with the mayor.

Its main sponsor, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, guaranteed its progress by obtaining the signatures of 34 other councilmembers—two-thirds of the Council—in support of it.

The P.B.A., frustrated by a lack of progress on labor talks and a perceived lack of support from City Hall when protests broke out following a grand jury's decision not to indict any police officers for the death of Eric Garner, lashed out at the mayor in December after two officers were shot and killed while sitting in their patrol car. P.B.A. president Pat Lynch accused the mayor of having blood on his hands.

Crowley told Capital she successfully lobbied for enough signatures during the Council’s first charter meeting of the new year, which was held today.

"When our firefighters and police officers risk their lives for the safety of New Yorkers, we owe them the assurance that their families will be provided for should anything happen,” Crowley said.

Among the 35 members supporting the resolution is Karen Koslowitz, who chairs the committee on state and federal legislation, which would hear the proposal.

A spokesperson for the P.B.A. declined to comment.

De Blasio has said he would oppose because of concerns over its cost. But the mayor doesn't have the power to veto this sort of Council resolution.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has said she is reviewing the request. Her spokesman said today that still hasn't taken a position on it.

Under the current law, uniformed workers are placed into a tier system based on when they are hired. Workers with less time on the job only receive 50 percent of their pensions. Workers hired before 2009—the last time the law was changed —get 75 percent of their pension in disability benefits.

Crowley’s proposal would create parity among the different pension tiers for all employees of the uniformed services.

“Every emergency responder is taking the same risk, and every responder deserves the same disability benefits if they get hurt,” Crowley said.

Since it’s a law that can only be enacted at the state level, the Council must pass what is known as a “home rule message,” indicating to Albany that it supports the legislation and would urge the governor to sign it into law.

Last year, the Council failed to act on the resolution and never passed the home rule message, so the state Legislature was not able to move a corresponding bill. Similar legislation was passed in 2009, but then-governor David Paterson vetoed it.

The Council hearing has not been scheduled yet. The bill will also have to be reintroduced in Albany’s new legislative session before it can be sent to the floor for a vote.

State Senator Martin Golden, an outspokenly pro-police Republican from Brooklyn who is one of the sponsors of the bill in Albany, said he thinks the proposal has a better chance of passing in the upcoming session.

“I do believe that that is the right way to go," he said. "I believe the councilwoman is moving in the right direction. This Senate has done it before. We will pass it again."

“I believe the governor is in a better place today than he was previously," he said. "Looking at what’s going on in the city and across the state I believe that he will in fact sign this legislation into law and give those benefits to those police officers, those firemen, those E.M.T. and those law enforcement officers that need that.”

Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson—who chairs the Council’s public safety committee and has served in Albany—said she also thinks the bill has a better chance of passing than it did before.

“They have been very supportive of legislation that’s in support of law enforcement, so I think actually having the Republicans in the majority may help this issue,” Gibson said. “It’s something that I think will be a good proposal to consider in light of demonstrating the fact that we do support police officers. It’s something that would go a long way for us a council in demonstrating our support for the police department.”

--additional reporting by Laura Nahmias