Capital News 11:32 a.m. | Apr. 28, 2015

Police and fire unions plan march on City Hall

By Sally Goldenberg

Pat Lynch

In the latest step in their fight for higher disability pension benefits, rank-and-file police officers and firefighters are joining forces to pressure both sides of City Hall. 

The Uniformed Firefighters Association, which has taken the lead on the issue in recent months, will be joined in the May 6 demonstration by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association—the police officers' union whose president publicly feuded with Mayor Bill de Blasio last year after the fatal shooting of two officers in December.

The unions anticipate hundreds of workers will attend the march, which is set to begin with a rally in Battery Park, continue up Broadway's "Canyon of Heroes" and culminate with a press conference on the steps of City Hall, the U.F.A. announced Tuesday morning.

"The city has a moral obligation to protect and support police officers and firefighters who are injured in its service. We are asking our city leaders to honor that obligation by equalizing disability benefits for all," Lynch said.

At issue is the unions' desire for the state Legislature to pass a bill that would increase line-of-duty retirement benefits for New York City police officers and firefighters hired after July of 2009 to the levels of those hired before.

At the time, then-governor David Paterson changed the law so that the more recent hires receive only half of their pay in disability pensions, compared to three-quarters for the more senior employees. In addition, the newer tier is affected by a Social Security offset that reduces pensions further.

The change in Albany requires authorization from the City Council, but speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has yet to support the unions on the issue, citing costs.

Last year, after a lobbying effort from the P.B.A., she refused to pass the requisite "home rule message," and has not changed her stance this year. Her spokesman, Eric Koch, said she will schedule a hearing on the matter, though she has yet to do so.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley has gathered 37 signatures from Council members for her resolution supporting the union's position—11 more than a measure needs to pass the Council.

Although he does not have a formal role in the legislative process on this matter, de Blasio also opposes the measure. He, too, has mentioned the cost to taxpayers—$72.2 million for police officers and $23 million for firefighters by Fiscal Year 2019, according to the administration's estimates.

The two unions pushing the change have yet to settle their expired labor contracts with City Hall, and the P.B.A. is currently in binding arbitration, hoping for a deal that would exceed those accepted by 75 percent of the municipal workforce over the past 16 months.

While pensions cannot be negotiated in city labor talks, the administration is unlikely to support a pension sweetener through legislation with contracts outstanding.

In addition to the march, which comes after a rally outside City Hall last month, the unions have taken to social media to pressure de Blasio and Mark-Viverito.

"Despite overwhelming support among lawmakers, @BilldeBlasio & @MMViverito have refused to allow a vote to fix inequality. #standwithbravest," read a tweet on the U.F.A. page Tuesday morning.

De Blasio spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick provided the following statement: "The administration takes police officer and firefighter safety very seriously. While there are issues with this specific legislation, Mayor de Blasio’s door is always open, and he is committed to working together with police and firefighters to protect these brave public servants who protect us every day."