One often overlooked part of the state budget agreement reached in April is its inclusion of some much-needed pension reform. Specifically, the budget agreement reduces the vesting period for Tier 5 and 6 pension benefits from 10 years of service to five years.
This reduction is a significant victory for public employees. Many public sector unions pushed for this change in the month before the final budget was announced. At the time of Tier 6’s adoption under then-Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2012, the PSC blasted the new reform, widely considered far less generous than previous pension tiers, because it would acutely impact PSC’s part-time members and create impediments for CUNY in hiring new instructors.
As the Public Employees Federation explained in a statement, the budget agreement “re-establishes the five-year vesting period for benefits in the New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System so that the state can attract and retain talent in this extremely tight labor market. This begins the process of repairing the Tier 5 and 6 retirement plans so state and local governments can attract and retain the workers they need to maintain operations and build the public sector workforce of the future.”
The imposition of Tiers 5 and 6 by then-Governor Cuomo was largely seen as a way to “reduce retirement benefits drastically for future employees,” a 2011 Clarion article noted, also citing the New York Times, saying, “Cuomo’s plan would raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 for state workers, and from 57 to 65 for public school teachers; raise the employee pension contribution from 3% of salary to 6%; and ‘ban the use of unused sick leave or unused vacation time to enhance an employee’s pension calculation.’”
President Barbara Bowen, the PSC president at the time, was quoted saying, Cuomo’s imposition of new pension tiers “was pure political opportunism,” in which he joined with Republicans who blamed the state’s budget woes on compensation for state workers. She added, “A lower pension tier is a bogus solution to the state budget deficit.”
ANGERING THE RIGHT
Anti-union political forces decried the change: “It looks like ‘big labor’ got things they were seeking and rolling back pension reform is one of them,” Peter Warren of the anti-union Empire Center for Public Policy complained in an article in the New York Post.
District Council 37, New York State Nurses Association, the United Federation of Teachers and other unions had lobbied through March for pension reform. The PSC hailed the new change.
For more background on the tiers within the Teachers’ Retirement System, go to nysut.org/members/retirees/teachers-retirement-system.