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Queens Chronicle

Unions hit back on state pension vote

CSEA halts political contributions, endorsements over Tier VI outcome

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Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:12 pm, Thu Mar 29, 2012.

The state’s largest public employees’ union has struck back against Albany legislators in the wake of new pension rules adopted last week, and Senate Democrats— who left the chamber long before a vote was taken — are examining options of their own.

The so-called Tier VI plan, championed by Gov. Cuomo, will reduce some benefits and increase costs for future hires. All current employees will keep their current benefits. He said it will save the state and municipalities $80 billion over the next 30 years.

But Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, or CSEA, said Monday that his organization, with about 300,000 members statewide, would immediately suspend all political activity in the state, including campaign contributions and candidate endorsements.

“This unprecedented action is a direct result of the political deal between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislative leadership, Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats, trading the future retirement security of working New Yorkers for legislative redistricting lines,” Donohue said, adding that the CSEA and other unions now will look to hold elected officials accountable.

Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Cuomo are praising a deal reached in the early morning hours of March 15 as a way to rein in public employee pension costs.

Cuomo signed the measure into law last Friday.

“For years, local governments have struggled to cope with soaring retirement costs, driving up taxes on New York families and small businesses,” Cuomo said in a statement issued by his office. “This bold and transformational pension plan is a historic win for New York taxpayers and municipalities that will save more than $80 billion over the next 30 years while preserving retirement security for public workers.”

Cuomo said the cost of pensions has increased 650 percent since 2002, and that failure to address the matter would have led to layoffs of employees as well as tax increases.

Bloomberg called Tier VI a huge victory for the city and the state.

“Skyrocketing pension costs have caused fiscal crises in many cities and counties around New York, cutting into local governments’ ability to deliver core services,” Bloomberg said in a press release. “That’s why mayors and county executives — from both parties, and from every region of the state — came together to support Gov. Cuomo’s plan.”

The law establishes a higher pension contribution rate for future hires. It also raises the retirement age for most public employees from 62 to 63.

It also adjusts so-called pension multipliers; cuts the number of unused sick and leave days that can count toward a pension from 200 to 100; and limits pension benefits for those earning an amount higher than the governor’s salary of $179,000.

Most Senate Democrats, however, did not vote on the plan, having bolted from the chamber en masse late on the night of March 14 in protest of a measure that cut short the debate on the new redistricting lines for Senate and Assembly districts as mandated by the results of the 2010 federal Census.

The vote on redistricting — and ultimately pensions — proceeded without them.

“They marked us absent,” said a livid Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing).

The vote was taken with 37 members in the chamber. Democrats claimed the pension plan was a budget bill that needed 38, or two-thirds of the membership, for a quorum. The measure was passed as a programs bill.

Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr., a member of Civil Service and Pensions Committee, as well as the Labor Committee, took a dim view of the bill and GOP tactics.

“There was no reason this had to be rushed to the floor for a vote in the early morning,” Addabbo said Tuesday. “It could have been done this week or next week or when we do the budget.”

The Senate vote took place after 1 a.m. on Thursday. The Assembly took up the measure six hours later before ending its marathon session.

Addabbo said he had been talking to labor leaders in recent weeks, telling them they needed to come up with recommendations of their own if they did not like Tier VI; recommendations, he said, that could have been the basis for negotiations.

“Considering pensions is a worthy discussion that has to take place,” he said. “But I don’t think Tier VI in its current form helps demonstrably, not for many years, and we need relief now.”

As to whether or not the Senate had a legal quorum at the time of the pension vote, a state labor official told the Chronicle that the unions might not have the legal standing to challenge the vote in court.

But Michael Roberts, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), said Monday that Democrats are not yet conceding the matter.

“We are looking at all of the options out there,” Roberts said in a telephone interview on Monday. “We are looking into the legal questions about how this was handled. We are in the middle of looking at everything on the table.”

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