September 2, 2016

Mayor Enacts Upgrade In Disability Benefits For New SanWorkers

Requires Added Pay-In, But Gives Them Tax-Free, 75% Pension Check


ACTION ON DISABILITY PENSIONS: Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, thanks Mayor de Blasio Aug. 30 for signing a bill providing ‘three-quarter’ pensions to newer Sanitation Workers who have to retire because of on-the-job injuries. The action equalizes the payouts for workers hired before and after 2009, but with those later hires required to contribute an additional 1.3 percent of salary toward their pensions. (Mayoral Photography Office/Demetrius Freeman)

Mayor de Blasio signed a bill Aug. 30 providing tax-free disability pensions equal to 75 percent of final average salary for Sanitation Workers hired after 2009, when then-Gov. David Paterson vetoed a bill extending the benefit, the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association announced.

Mr. de Blasio reached similar agreements in June with the Correction Officers Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association rejected the city’s offer of a similar deal, contending its newer members were being asked to pay too great a percentage of salary into the pension system to obtain it.

Others Expected to Move

The UFA deal was unanimously approved by the State Legislature and is expected to be signed by Governor Cuomo. The COBA and USA upgrades were accomplished through a change permitted under the New York City Employees’ Retirement System that does not require state approval.

USA President Harry Nespoli said in an interview, “I’ve got two members who are injured right now and getting operations on their legs and feet. Who knows when the operations are over if they’ll be able to go back to work? This new law will protect their families.”

He emphasized that providing the benefit will cost the city and the taxpayers nothing. “The union is paying for the three-quarters,” he said.

Mr. de Blasio said in a statement, “Protecting our workforce—while also protecting taxpayers—has been a pillar of this administration and one we are proud to continue today. With these agreements, we are confident that New York City’s bravest, strongest and boldest can go to work feeling secure that they have the support of the city behind them…Productive collaboration with our uniformed workers has once again led to strong results.”

PBA: Mayor Playing Games

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said after the signing, “Time and time again, Mayor de Blasio and his administration have disrespected police officers by refusing to protect them and their families with an adequate disability benefit. Their lack of effort is politics, plain and simple, especially considering New York City police officers are now the only police officers in all of New York State who are subject to this diminished benefit.

PATRICK LYNCH: Balked at city terms

“We remain willing to work with the City Council, the State Legislature, and the Governor to correct this injustice, and hope the Mayor will join this effort and stop playing games with the lives of New York City cops.”

Mr. Paterson’s veto of an extender bill, passed every two years for decades, that carried over Tier 2 benefits for uniformed employees hired under newer pension tiers meant that those injured in the line of duty were no longer eligible for pensions of three-quarters of their pay free of state or local taxes.

A Sharp Downgrade

Instead, such employees hired in 2010 or later were to receive taxable half-pay disability pensions, with Social Security disability payments also deducted. The PBA and UFA said this could leave members at the bottom of the pay scale with as little as $27 a day.

Mr. Paterson—speaking in 2014 after Police Officer Rosa Rodriguez’s lungs were damaged, perhaps permanently, in a fire that killed her partner, Dennis Guerra—said he had vetoed the Tier 2 extension because of financial pressures on the state, although the PBA pointed out that the money for disability pensions comes from the Police Pension Fund, not state coffers.

The Mayor’s Office said the State Legislature’s approval of the benefit was not needed because the affected workers are funding it. The disability pension will be 75 percent of final average salary, a five-year period under which “no single year can exceed the prior four years by more than 10 percent, as is the case under current law,” the office said.

“Tier 6 Sanitation members will pay an additional contribution of 1.3 percent of pay to fully fund the benefit, which will be adjusted every three years through an actuarial review in order to maintain full funding,” the statement continued.

Mr. Nespoli said that while future hires will be automatically enrolled in the new disability-pension program, current employees hired in 2010 through the day the change was enacted may stay with the old, less-generous plan if they don’t want to make the higher contribution that funds the improved benefit.

Think of the Family

He said he had held meetings in each borough urging members to accept the new benefit, telling them, “This is something that you must take to help your family in case something happens.”

The public doesn’t realize the number of injuries that can happen to Sanitation Workers, Mr. Nespoli said, including being struck by a car or hit in the face by debris thrown from the hopper of a sanitation truck. “Sometimes these people don’t come back to work,” he said.

He expressed gratitude toward the de Blasio administration, saying, “If they didn’t care about the workforce, I never would have got this.”

The PBA has been unhappy over contract negotiations with the city for years, contending that its members are paid substantially less than officers in surrounding suburban departments. Its anger intensified last year, when it chose arbitration rather than accept the contract pattern of 11 percent over seven years given by Mr. de Blasio to all other uniformed unions.

Lost in Arbitration

The arbitrator, Howard Edelman, awarded only 1 percent per year for two years, following the pattern for that period. He said that since the four other police unions had accepted those terms, giving the PBA a bigger raise would throw the NYPD’s salary structure into chaos.

Mr. Lynch sharply criticized the award and led a demonstration outside Mr. Edelman’s Manhattan apartment. The award brought the PBA contract only up to 2012, and the union filed a petition for a declaration of impasse in June on talks over future years. The state Public Employment Relations Board is considering whether to appoint a mediator, the first step toward deciding the contract in arbitration.

Once Mr. de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito relaxed their opposition to providing the upgraded disability benefit, city negotiators offered the unions various percentages of member contributions to cover the additional cost. The Sanitation union accepted an additional contribution equal to 1.3 percent of salary and COBA accepted 0.9 percent, both equal to the city’s estimated cost for the benefit. The UFA agreed to 2 percent, which was 2.3 points less than the estimated cost provided by Chief Actuary Sherry Chan.

The PBA was offered a 1.5 percent additional salary contribution, just a half-point break on Mr. Chan’s estimated cost of 2 percent. It said no, noting that a much-greater percentage of firefighters than cops were retiring on disability and contending that the city’s estimated cost was unreasonably high.