March 2, 2015 4:45 pm

PBA Rival's Disability Fix Called Detrimental

Claim It Undercuts Union Push

By Mark Toor

The leader of the Strengthen the Shield slate that is opposing Patrick J. Lynch for re-election to a fifth term as president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association last week released the slate’s solution to an inequity in disability pensions that currently leaves officers hired since 2010 with as little as $27 per day if an on-the-job injury keeps them from returning to work.

Mr. Lynch and a key state legislator say the plan offered by PBA Brooklyn North Trustee Brian Fusco is unworkable. They say the more-generous pension benefits should simply be extended to all officers.

Started With 2009 Veto

The problem arose from then-Gov. David Paterson’s decision in 2009 to veto a bill, passed routinely since 1976, that allowed police officers and firefighters to remain under Tier 2 of the pension system while other new public workers were placed under what is now Tier 4.

Tier 2 provides a line-of-duty disability pension equal to 75 percent of the salary for an employee’s final three years on the job that is free of state and city taxes. However, Tier 3, where police officers and firefighters hired beginning in 2010 wound up, provides only 50 percent of final average salary, subject to those taxes. It also requires that Social Security disability benefits be deducted from the pension.

Police and fire unions have been lobbying to equalize line-of-duty disability benefits for all members.

Mr. Fusco proposed a three-part solution Feb. 25. First, he said, the State Legislature should pass legislation that would allow police officers to choose whether to be covered under Tier 3 or Tier 6, which he said has higher contribution rates but provides a disability pension similar to the one under Tier 2.

The Legislature would also need to pass a “heart bill”—which presumes that any heart ailment is duty-related—that enables police officers to receive the same benefits as Tier 2. “Currently, Tier 2 officers have a heart bill that is strong, while Tier 3 has no heart bill and Tier 6 has an inadequate heart bill,” according to an announcement issued by STS.

Pension-Loan Push

Finally, Mr. Fusco said, the Legislature must approve a bill allowing officers in Tier 3 and Tier 6 to take out a pension loan to protect their families from financial hardship in the event of their death.

“Moving from Tier 3 to Tier 6 may not be right for every member, but the current disability and pension components of Tier 3 are so bad that all members should have the option to move to a different tier,” he said in a press release. “This is the first step in the effort to fix problems that have lingered unresolved for six years.”

“The Tier 3 members really are eager to get this taken care of,” Mr. Fusco said in an interview Feb. 26 after visiting Albany to lobby legislators. “They know if they get hurt they’ll be left with basically nothing.”

He said he presented lawmakers with petitions containing 400 signatures from six or seven commands he and his slate visited Feb. 25. “I think we got the message out,” Mr. Fusco said, adding that more visits to Albany are a possibility.

Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate Jr., chair of the Committee on Government Employees, said Mr. Fusco’s proposal “is not a very good idea.”

‘Won’t Opt to Pay More’

He said the employee contributions under Tier 6 are significantly greater than Tier 3’s—almost twice as much. “These are young men and women,” he said in an interview. “A lot of the young people will choose not to pay more. They all think they’re supermen.”

The proposal will not fix the core problem, he said: “Some will have it and some won’t have it.” He is sponsoring a bill that would extend Tier 2 disability benefits to Tier 3 members. Martin J. Golden, a Brooklyn Republican and retired NYPD officer, has introduced a similar bill in the State Senate.

At this point, Mr. Abbate is waiting for a home-rule message from the City Council asserting the need for the bill. Mr. de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have blocked such a message, but there are signs they are having second thoughts. The STS proposal is designed to get around the need for a home-rule message.

Mr. Abbate said the disability issue should not be subject to union politics. “It could delay the progress we’re making right now,” he said. Even a couple of months for a conversation on Mr. Fusco’s proposal is a threat, he said.

Lynch: Undermining Talks

Mr. Lynch agreed. “No political campaign should ever seek to undermine our efforts on behalf of our members, or to advance their own interests to the detriment of police officers, and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” he said in a statement.

The STS slate “will end up hurting our members by leading our elected officials to believe that the inferior overall benefits of the Tier 6 pension plan, including the reduction of 3 percent of police officers’ take-home pay, are acceptable to New York City police officers,” the PBA leader said. “The city has a moral obligation to protect and support police officers who are injured in its service. We are asking our city leaders to honor that obligation by equalizing disability pension benefits for all members of the NYPD.”

He said 35 of the 52 City Council Members have signed on to support the change, and the State Senate also backs it.