Public Sector Alliance June 9, 2014

By Sally Goldenberg

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have yet to take a position on a bill in Albany that would increase disability pensions for newer police officers, including one who was critically injured in a fire earlier this year.

The mayor, whose administration is engaged in contract talks with Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said he was unfamiliar with the union's push for the bill, which would offer higher pensions for city police officers injured in the line of duty.

"I have not seen the bill. So, again, we'll get you an answer but I have not seen the bill so I can't comment," de Blasio said when asked about the issue at an unrelated press conference in Upper Manhattan this morning.

But late this afternoon, his aides still had not provided an update on the mayor's position on the matter. A push for the legislation has intensified since NYPD officer Rosa Rodriguez was severely injured responding to a Brooklyn fire in April that killed another offier, Dennis Guerra.

Under current law, Rodriguez would receive a smaller disability pension—about 50 percent of her salary—than her counterparts who were hired before 2009. Those officers get 75 percent of their pensions in disability benefits.

Police officers are placed into a tier system, based on when they were hired, with disability pensions assigned by tier.

The bill in Albany, which has been introduced in both houses of the State Legislature, would give all police officers the same disability benefit — three-quarters of their salary.

A memo attached to the bill notes that Rodriguez's disability benefits would total $22,000 a year, compared to about $39,000 if she had been hired before July 2009.

The P.B.A. has been lobbying the City Council to pass what's called a "home rule resolution," which would indicate to Albany that it supports legislation that would impact New York City.

De Blasio cannot veto a home rule resolution, but his position on the legislation could influence the City Council as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo, who would have to sign the bill into law.

Like de Blasio, Mark-Viverito has not taken a position on the issue, despite her outspoken support for unions.

Her spokesman, Eric Koch, told Capital today that she is reviewing the bill — the same answer he provided last week.

The P.B.A. on Friday wrote to Mark-Viverito, pressing for her support.

"Based on our understanding of the views of your colleagues in the Council, the home rule resolution has significant support and would comfortably pass if a vote is allowed to occur," the leter from union president Patrick Lynch said.

In the letter, Lynch also downplayed concerns over the cost of the change, noting that in the past five years, there has not been a single Tier 3 disability case approved at the Police Pension Board.

Meanwhile, Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group, wrote to de Blasio today discouraging him from supporting the pension change.

The C.B.C. noted that the city actuary's estimated cost of the bill at $35 million for the 2015 fiscal year.

"New pension tiers that are helping New York City to lower costs and balance the budget were not easily achieved in Albany. You have voiced repeatedly your commitment to fiscal responsibility; please affirm that commitment by opposing this bill," C.B.C. president Carol Kellermann wrote.

She noted in her letter that pension costs for the city have been "skyrocketing," reaching $8.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2013.

The P.B.A. said it will continue to pressure de Blasio and Mark-Viverito for their support.

"The equalization of disability benefits for police officers in Tier 3 is an issue that has serious implications for the NYPD regarding future recruitment and for public safety in general. The city cannot expect to ask police officers to risk their lives if they refuse to care for them when they sustain a debilitating injury in the line of duty," Lynch said. "This union is fully committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that all of our member are adequately protected. This is an issue that must be addressed and this union has no intention of letting it go away."

The P.B.A. and the de Blasio administration reached an impasse on contract negotiations in May, and are now headed to binding arbitration if they canot come to an agreement with a mediator.