Public Sector Alliance June 4, 2014

P.B.A. lobbies Council to help hike disability pensions

By Sally Goldenberg and Gloria Pazmino

With the de Blasio administration and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association locked in tense negotiations over the union's contract, another dispute is simmering over a push to increase disability pensions for police officers.

In recent weeks, the P.B.A. has been lobbying members of the City Council to support a bill in Albany that would allow members of the NYPD to receive a disability pension equal to three-quarters of their pay.

The bill would provide the same disability benefits to officers hired after July 2009 as those hired before. Presently, more recent hires receive smaller disability pensions than their older counterparts because of an earlier change in state law.

The union wants the Council to pass a "home rule" message indicating it approves of the bill before the Legislature adjourns for summer recess.

But the change to the pension system has not received the backing of de Blasio, who does not have the power to veto it, but whose support could influence both the Council, with which he has a close relationship, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who would have to sign the measure into law.

Asked where de Blasio, who prides himself on being a union ally, stands on the measure, his spokeswoman, Marti Adams, would only say, “The city looks forward to working with its entire workforce, including our police officers, to pursue sound public policies and labor agreements that protect the taxpayer, keep our city safe, and respect our workers."

A spokesman for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito confirmed that the state Legislature has requested the home rule message, but would not disclose Mark-Viverito's position on the issue.
Meanwhile, representatives of the P.B.A. have been meeting individually with council members to push them into supporting the legislation, which is being pursued after a recent line-of-duty injury to police officer Rosa Rodriguez, who was hospitalized for severe damage to her lungs after responding to a Brooklyn building fire in April. 

The chairwoman of the council's public safety committee, Vanessa Gibson, told Capital she met with P.B.A. officials, who approached her "with specifics of the case of Officer Rodriguez."

"It's a bigger issue and it's only highlighted because of [Officer Rodriguez's] current disability. There are several thousand officers that would fall in this scenario because they're in the tier," Gibson said, adding that she will support the measure if the council can submit it before the legisaltive session ends.

The city's actuary has estimated the change would cost roughly $35 million in Fiscal Year 2015, and would increase to $71 million by Fiscal Year 2019, according to a document obtained by Capital.
The union argues that extending the benefit to officers across the hiring tiers is a "moral" issue.

"The recent serious injury to police officer Rosa Rodriguez, whose partner, PO Dennis Guerra, was killed in a high-rise fire, has focused a spotlight on the devastatingly inadequate disability benefits provided under Tier 3," P.B.A. President Patrick Lynch said in an email.

Tier 3 refers to the newer police officers who do not receive three-quarters of their salary in disability pensions.

"It is imperative that Tier 3 officers and their families have the same fiscal protection from devastating injury as every other police officers in the state," Lynch said. "The city has a moral obligation to ensure that those who risk their lives in service to the city are adequately cared for, should a serious injury befall them."

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who chairs the fire and criminal justice committee, also said she has been lobbied by the police union. Crowley said she believes the actuary is overstating the potential cost to the city because, she believes, fewer officers than estimated will retire with disability injuries.
"Anybody that gets seriously hurt or injured while working for this city, they should have that right extended to them," Crowley said. "The fiscal impact is non-existent. It's an ethical question and New Yorkers deserve it."

The P.B.A.'s push comes after the union declared an impasse with the de Blasio administration over contract negotiations. Like the other 151 municipal unions, the P.B.A. has been working under an expired contract since the Bloomberg administration, and has said it was not satisfied with recent deals City Hall attempted to strike.

A mediator will attempt to work out a deal between the two sides, and if one is not reached, the process moves into binding arbitration, in which a judge issues a decision.