The Chief

November 26, 1999

Assure Benefits for TA and HA Police Retirees

But Sheriff, Court Worker Pension Bills Vetoed

By Andrea Della Monica

Governor Pataki Nov. 16 signed into law a bill which guarantees thousands of retirees from the former Transit and Housing Police Departments and their dependents the same level of health, welfare and medical benefits as is afforded to Police Department retirees.

The new law applies to civilian and uniformed members of the two departments who retired on or before April 13, 1995, prior to the merger of the three police forces.

Three More Vetoes

In other legislative news, the Governor vetoed three more early-out pension bills, one affecting Deputy Sheriffs in the Finance Department, and the other two affecting Court Officers and Court Clerks employed by the Unified Court System.

Former Transit and Housing cops in the New York City Employees' Retirement Association hailed the Governor's action on benefit coverage as a long-awaited victory, following years of litigation and lobbying to ensure that their benefits would not be diminished.

"We just wanted to be treated as equal partners," said Edward Ranieri, legislative committee chairman for the New York City Retired Transit Police Officers' Association.

"I was totally, totally surprised," said Joseph Gagliardo, president of the National Association of Retired Housing Police, describing his reaction to the bill-signing. "Nobody paid attention to this issue. I called it the bastard bill. This was a real David and Goliath battle."

Retiree representatives from both organizations were concerned that without legislation the city would not be compelled to provide the same level of funding in future contract negotiations with police unions. Fueling this fear was the Mayor's Office of Labor Relations' strong oppostion to the bill in testimony before the City Council.

Memorandums of understanding outlining employees' rights before and after the consolidation of the forces applied only to active members of the non-defunct police unions for the Transit and Housing Police.

'Vague' Promises

"Provisions concerning the future level and funding of our benefits were vague and were subject to the city's sole interpretation," Mr. Ranieri said.

The Deputy Sheriff bill would have permitted Deputy Sheriffs, Levels I and II, Supervising Deputy Sheriffs and Administrative Sheriffs to contribute an additional 6.5 percent in pay and retire after 20 years of service regardless of age. The plan would have been mandatory for all new hires in the title series and had a 15-year vesting period.

The Governor vetoed the bill on the grounds that it would deplete the ranks of seasoned officers and prove too costly for the city based on its projections for increased benefit contributions.

The New York City Deputy Sheriffs' Association pressed for the bill as a recruitment tool, arguing that in the last 10 years the job has become increasingly hazardous and law-enforcement-oriented.

"While New York City Deputy Sheriffs perform a valuable service for the residents of New York City, and I am sympathetic to the need to recruit and retain Deputy Sheriffs, I am constrained to disapprove the bill based upon the concerns raised by the Office of the mayor of the City of New York," Governor Pataki said in his veto message.

"The bill would result in the loss of experienced employees, as many participating Deputy Sheriffs would leave after 20 years of service rather than remain in city service," he added.

A fiscal note accompanying the proposed legislation, prepared by former City Actuary Jonathan Schwartz, indicated there would be no additional cost to the city if the bill were enacted.

The Governor, however, disagreed, saying that "there are strong reasons to believe otherwise."

He wrote, "After all, the 20-year plan would be particularly attractive to Deputy Sheriffs with close to 20 years of service. Those who opt might well pay the additional 6.5 percent for only a short period of time before retiring."

The Governor added that "absent compelling circumstances, this type of pension benefit should be mutually agreed upon through the collective bargaining process."

25-55 Option Squashed

The other early-out bills would have permitted members of the NYS Court Officers' Association, the NYS Supreme Court Officers' Association and the NYS Court Clerks' Association to retire after 25 years of service at age 55. Under current law, those employees must work 30 years to retire with their full pensions.

"We are extremely disappointed, to say the least, but we are not deterred," said Charles Compton, president of the Supreme Court Officers' Association.

Dennis Quirk, who heads the Court Officers' Association, said the Governor's actions show a "lack of concern and a lack of respect for people who put their lives on the line each day."

Mr. Quird noted that because there are no longer any age restrictions to become a Court Officer, there are people entering the job in their late 40s and even 50s. "What are they saying: that people have to work until they are in their 70s or 80s to retire?" he asked.

Explaining his objections, the governor wrote, "Although I appreciate the stressful and sometimes dangerous jobs performed by peace officers employed by the UCS, I must disapprove these bills for several reasons.

$42-Million Price Tag

Mr. Pataki noted that if enacted these two bills would cost the state a one-time combined total of $42 million, which he described as a "significant and immediate unbudgeted cost," and additional annual costs equaling about .3 percent of the affected members' salaries.

The court union leaders countered that the cost is minuscule compared to the billions in surplus in the state pension system. They also noted that most other peace officers in the state already have the benefit.

The Governor added that "while enactment of this legislation would undoubtedly aid in the recruitment and retention of UCS peace officers, I have not been presented with evidence demonstration that UCS currently faces any serious problems in recruiting or retaining these employees."

The Governor's vetoes came a week after he vetoed two other bills providing early-out retirement options for Emergency Medical Technicians and Fire Alarm Dispatchers.