The Chief

November 10, 2000


'Death Gamble' Bill for Police, Fire is Signed

Families of 20-Year Vets Who Die on Job to Benefit

By William Van Auken

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Key protection for familities

Governor Pataki signed into law a key pension bill benefiting city cops and firefighters Oct. 31 at a ceremony in his New York City office attended by legislators and union leaders.

Police and fire unions greeted the Governor's enactment of the so-called "death gamble" bill as a political victory. Mr. Pataki had vetoed similar legislation in 1999, while setting up his Pension Task Force to review proposed changes to retirement laws

Lynch: Career Extender

"It's terrific; police officers' families should be protected," said Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch. "We fought for this legislation for years and it's about time." The PBA president said that the bill could convince some cops to keep working past 20 years, knowing that their families would be taken care of if they were to die from non-line-of-duty causes.

Families of firefighters, who work beyond their 20th year in greater numbers than their counterparts at the NYPD, are expected to reap a disproportionate benefit from the new law.

The long-sought legislation provides an increased lump-sum ordinary death benefit to Tier 2 police officers and firefighters who die while still on the job but after becoming eligible for a service retirement. It allows the beneficiary to receive a lump sum payment equal to the amount of the pension reserve which would have been established had the deceased cop or firefighter retired on the date of his or her death.

Big Boost for Tier 2s

While this benefit existed for Tier 1 cops and firefighters hired before 1973, survivors of Tier 2 members who died under these circumstances received only the equivalent of three years' final salary.

For a Police Officer with 20 years, three year's salary equals approximately $165,000. The pension reserve, however, would be worth approximately $500,000 for most cops, according to police union officials.

The new benefit will go to survivors of cops and firefighters who have died on or after July 1, 2000 and who have either completed the service requirement for their pension, or have reached age 55 with five or more years of credited service at the time of death.

Also signed at the ceremony were bills benefiting civilian workers, including legislation that allows members to buy credit for public employment service rendered prior to becoming a member of a retirement system. The new law also reduces from five to two years the amount of service credit an employee must have in his or her current membership before being able to receive credit for previous service.

Early Withdrawal Bill

Another bill enacted affects the New York City Employees' Retirement System, Board of Education Retirement System and Teachers' Retirement System, as well as the state retirement systems, bringing early retirement penalties for Tier 3 and 4 members down to the level existing for Tier 2. The bill, which is retroactive to Oct. 1 for city employees, would change the benefit reductions to one-half of 1 percent for each full month (up to 24) by which early retirement precedes 62, plus a further reduction of one-quarter of 1 percent for each full month preceding age 60. It restricts early retirement to employees who have reached age 55.

Thus, while a Tier 3 or 4 member previously retiring at age 55 with less than 30 years of service would have faced a 38-percent reduction in benefits, the new law brings the reduction down to 27 percent.

Finally a Death Benefit Option piece was signed affecting Tier 2, 3 and 4 members. It allows survivors of employees who die while in active service to receive benefits based on the option that yields the largest amount. In most cases, this would be Death Benefit 2, which provides one year's salary for each year of service credit up to a maximum of three years.

Celebration of the "death gamble" signing was tempered for some police unions by the Governor's failure thus far to enact a piece of legislation that would equalize Variable Supplements Fund-derived benefits for their members.

This bill would benefit cops in the rank of Detective and above hired after July 1, 1988, who currently have a VSK-derived benefit that is substantially inferior to that given to members of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

While Police Officers who retire this year receive $8,500, with the amount rising by annual $500 increments to $12,000 in 2007, members of the superior officer unions hired after July 1988 begin receiving only $2,500 upon retirement, and the $500 annual increments follow.

Want UFOA Terms

The legislation backed by the superior officer unions would allow them to buy equalization with the PBA based on the same percentage of their total contract that was paid by the Uniformed Fire Officers' Association to achieve the same end in an earlier round of bargaining.

The city has opposed the measure, calling it an unwarranted intervention into the collective-bargaining process.

"I hope that the Governor looks at this based on its merits," said Detectives' Endowment Association President Thomas J. Scotto, who estimated that upwards of 7,000 Detectives and Sergeants would be affected by the bill. "We're optimistic."