Bloomberg Proposes Cuts to City Worker Pensions

Unions balk, say city's proposal ignores the sacrifices of many of its workers

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    NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks in Grand Central Terminal at a hearing about high-speed rail networks January 27, 2011 in New York City. Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committeec gathered in the historic train station to hear Bloomberg, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and others speak about the feasibility of building high-speed rail lines in the northeastern United States and elsewhere. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Michael Bloomberg

    Future city police and firefighters could not boost their pensions by working overtime in their last years on the job under cuts proposed Wednesday by the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

    The proposal, subject to state lawmakers' approval, would also raise teacher retirement ages for new hires and eliminate a $12,000 yearly payment received by many current police and fire department retirees. The administration presented it to the Municipal Labor Committee, which represents some 300,000 city workers.

    Bloomberg has said the city's pensions are more generous than those in the private sector. With the metropolis facing deep budget cuts, he argues that he has no choice but to reduce pensions for future hires and cut the yearly payments for some retirees.

    But unions fiercely protested the proposal, saying the city was ignoring the sacrifices of many of its workers.

    "This would destroy the city employees. You wouldn't get the talent that you have there now," said Harry Nespoli, the Municipal Labor Committee chairman. "This is just an attack on the middle class."

    "These are  not reforms – they are simplistic solutions that merely try to do away with benefits.   Today’s session with the city was not a discussion, it was simply a dictation of what the city will  try do in Albany," Nespoli said in a statement yesterday.

    The yearly payments to retired firefighters and police officers are a promise the city should not abandon, said Patrolmen's Benevolent Association Patrick Lynch.

    "This is not only bad fiscal policy that may result in low recruitment and increased crime rates, it's a violation of a trust," he said.

    The proposal also calls for non-uniformed workers to pay more of their salary into their pension and cuts some benefits for teachers. Uniformed employees who work fewer than 22 years would have to wait until the age of 65 to collect their pensions.

    Bloomberg has enlisted former Mayor Ed Koch in his Albany campaign for pension reforms that he says will save the city billions of dollars. Among the changes they're seeking is a reversal of the law requiring the state government to approve city pension changes. Instead, Bloomberg wants to be able to negotiate pension terms at the same time as salary and other benefits during collective bargaining.

    It's unclear what fate the proposal will face in the Legislature. Joshua Vlasto, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said Wednesday the administration was reviewing the proposal.

    "As the Governor has said since the beginning of his campaign, he is committed to reforming the pension system in order to reduce costs," Vlasto said in an e-mail.

    The move comes a day after Cuomo unveiled a budget plan that calls for an overall reduction in spending and up to 9,800 layoffs as the state tries to get out from under crippling deficits.

    Cuomo's $132.9 billion budget — about $2 billion less than last year's plan — cuts education and health care spending and recommends layoffs through attrition. New York faces a $10 billion deficit, the same kind of historic shortfalls that states nationwide face when their executive budget proposals are due in the coming months.

    Cuomo said he hopes to use attrition, estimated at more than 10,000 jobs a year, to help achieve $550 million in savings from the work force. The new governor also said he will use contract negotiations to minimize layoffs.