How Governor Cuomo Undermined Retirement Security

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[Union Matters]

Last week, Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill that turns the American dream into a nightmare for thousands if women and men. Until last week, a job as a city employee meant a step towards middle class stability and retirement security.

In the past, city jobs offered millions, especially people of color, a chance to use our education and skills to help other New Yorkers. In careers determined by what we know not who you know, the civil service system and labor unions leveled the playing field giving us enough economic security to buy homes, put our kid through school and, after decades of dedicated service, retire with dignity.

Last week, that changed. In the dead of night, Governor Cuomo strong-armed elected officials to push through Tier 6 pension legislation that reduces retirement security for New York's hardest working and lowest paid women and men.

We did manage to protect city workers from a 401 (k) scheme that would have allowed Wall Street to gamble with our hard-earned pensions the way they gambled with our mortgages causing the worse financial crisis in decades. But, Tier 6 is still bad news.

Tier 6 slashes benefits for new employees and current ones who are not enrolled in a pension plan, increases their pension payments, forces them to work more years before they're eligible for retirement, and more.

To hear Governor Cuomo and his allies, including Mayor Bloomberg, Tier 6 would save the state and city billions and give taxpayers "a better deal for their money."

They launched a campaign that ignored the advice of both city and state fiscal watchdogs--the comptrollers.Yet New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and New York City Comptroller John Liu questioned whether pension "reform" was necessary. They were ignored. State lawmakers were given no time to read or debate the merits of the pension bill. Union mounted a massive lobbying effort and ad campaigns but our voices were ignored.

Ironically, two years ago pension cuts were made in order to save millions, yet drastic cuts were being called necessary once again. Even so, thousands of public employees were exempted from this process. Instead of facts and figures documenting claims Tier 6 was necessary, we got distortions and lies. Public employees' pension were called "bloated" when in truth District Council 37 retirees' average pension is $17,000 per year. Many need to rely on their Social Security benefits to make ends meet.

Under Tier 6, the reduction in benefits will push new retirees below the poverty level making them eligible for food stamps, homeless shelters, and other forms of taxpayer-funded assistance.

That only shifts the burden onto the very taxpayers Mayor Bloomberg said would give a "better deal for their money." On April 1, 2012, when Tier 6 goes into effect, it will be the only pension tier available to currently employed city workers who for one reason or another aren't enrolled in a pension plan or to new hires who come onto the city's payroll after that date.

That is why we are urging current city employees who are not yet enrolled in a pension plan to secure their Tier IV (4) pension benefits by March 31, 2012. Pensions are about more than having a check. They secure our health insurance and welfare fund benefits.

For members of DC37 those welfare fund benefits include prescription, optical and dental coverage. The Welfare Fund also gives members access to legal services in such areas as housing, bankruptcy, family court, will preparation and more.
Please act now!!

While we've lost this battle we are not giving up the fight for retirement security. That is why, in the future you must be prepared to vote. Voting makes it possible for us to hold our elected representatives accountable. And, this year is an election year. The struggle continues.

Ms. Roberts is Executive Director of DC37

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