By MIKE LEE
DC 37 and other New York City unions are engaged in lobbying the state legislature for temporary Early Retirement Incentive (ERI) legislation that would allow the City’s long-serving public workers in certain tiers the option to retire early without a reduction in their benefits.
The bill is an important part of the union’s effort to stave off a repeat of the threat of potential layoffs of 22,000 New York City public workers. Last September, the New York City Central Labor Council negotiated a last-minute agreement with Mayor Bill de Blasio to suspend threatened layoffs until the end of this June. More recently, the passage of the American Rescue Act and related funding for New York City guaranteed layoffs will be delayed an additional year through at least June 2022. The ERI, however, would add further protection from a new administration and a future chance of layoffs.
An ERI for City public workers who qualify will allow them the option to retire early, thus reducing budgets in various departments while also providing a younger generation of workers a pathway to enter civil service with good, stable jobs and strong benefits.
The bill authorizes a retirement incentive for public workers who served at least 25 years in eligible titles and are at least 55 years of age. This gives workers who spent decades in public service but who have not yet reached retirement age, the option to retire with dignity and economic security. Currently, members who retire early face a significant reduction in their pension benefits.
There are several job titles exempt from the bill, including uniformed workers such as EMTs and hospital workers deemed essential to maintain frontline services as the pandemic continues.
According to sources, a temporary ERI could save New York City nearly a billion dollars, $250 million in the first fiscal year alone. This is savings the City desperately needs to resolve its budget crisis while waiting for financial relief from Washington. An ERI also would save the City the cost of unemployment benefits and escalating social service program expenditures for 22,000 workers who will find themselves without a paycheck.
The ERI bill initially was introduced during last year’s legislative session by New York State Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assembly member Peter Abbate, who reintroduced it this year.
“We need to be resourceful and use every tool available to us to prevent layoffs. An Early Retirement Incentive can save jobs and provide those near retirement age an option to leave early if they wish. This is good policy that will protect the financial future of our great city, while protecting the jobs of the public workers who make New York City run,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes.
At a Feb. 2 joint legislative hearing on the state’s Executive Budget Proposal, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido pointed out the urgency of an ERI.
“We need an Early Retirement Incentive that recognizes the hard work of dedicated City workers and allows them to retire with the economic security they deserve,” Garrido said. “An ERI will prevent the layoffs of thousands of city workers while maintaining the services all New Yorkers rely on.”
The City is struggling to find ways of closing an enormous budget deficit that grows exponentially with a lack of tourism, hotel closures, a dark Broadway, shuttered businesses, and hundreds of thousands of residents fleeing the New York City and state. Many frontline public workers, including the 150,000 members of DC 37, went to their workplaces daily during the pandemic to continue doing the necessary job of keeping New York City functioning, ultimately exposing themselves to the coronavirus. Many did get sick, and some even paid the ultimate price.
With super majorities in both houses of the State Legislature, the ERI stands a good chance of passing. In order to send a strong message to elected officials, DC 37 has been actively engaging with Albany legislators. Other city unions that will be impacted by layoffs later this year are ensconced in their own lobbying efforts.
DC 37’s Social Service Employees Union Local 371 has embarked on a letter-writing campaign to elected state leaders to press them to support passage of the ERI. SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells, who along with Garrido, participated in last year’s CLC negotiations with de Blasio, said, “The Early Retirement Incentive is a priority for our union, and for DC 37.”
“The pandemic crippled our city’s economy. It ravaged our communities, costing many New Yorkers their lives and livelihoods. Municipal workers who guided this city through the darkest days of the pandemic, were in danger of losing their jobs at the worst possible time. That is why this legislation is so important,” said Garrido.