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CUNY employees stand against Tier V

July 16, 2009 pm31 10:51 pm

The president of the Professional Staff Congress (AFT Local 2338, representing professors and many other job titles at CUNY) sent out the following letter earlier today:

July 16, 2009

Dear Colleague:

I hope your summer is going well.  I want to bring you up to date on Governor Paterson’s proposal to create a new, inferior pension tier for future public employees in New York State and on the position the PSC has taken in response.  Now that the State Senate has ended its stalemate and begun passing legislation, we can expect increased pressure to enact a lower pension tier.

It is a myth that Tier 5 is the answer to the current budget shortfall.

The PSC leadership is strongly opposed to the creation of an inferior pension tier—Tier 5—and to the inclusion of CUNY faculty and staff represented by the PSC in such a tier, should one be enacted.  On June 18, the union’s Delegate Assembly unanimously passed a resolution taking that position and calling on the legislature to stand with the PSC and our statewide affiliate, NYSUT, against the proposal. If you haven’t seen the resolution yet, I urge you to read it, because it gives a good summary of what’s at stake in the pension battle.

A lower pension tier would not add one penny to this year’s budget because the money it generates is not realized for ten years.

continues below the fold –->The union has worked with legislators and the governor’s office to make our opposition clear, starting with testimony I delivered in Albany in February.  On June 2, we were part of a press conference at which the New York City Municipal Labor Committee announced that we had reached an agreement with the City on health benefit savings and that we should not be expected to find further savings for the City and State.  On June 11 PSC members joined workers throughout the city in a rally to protect our pensions, and we are planning to bring members to Albany to make our case if the legislature moves toward passing a Tier 5.

What You Can Do
It will take a major legislative effort to prevent the enactment of a broad Tier 5 bill and to ensure the exclusion of future CUNY faculty and staff from any pension reductions.  We have to continue to send a strong message to Albany—and we do that best when we do that together.  Please click here if you are willing to be called on to sign a petition, send a fax or attend a rally in support.  We will call on you.  The situation in Albany changes every day, and it’s possible that this issue will resurface in August.  Keep abreast of the developments by reading “This Week in the PSC” and checking the union website.

The Tier 5 Proposal for Future Employees
The New York State Constitution provides that once a pension benefit for public employees (including CUNY faculty and staff) is established by law, it cannot be “diminished or impaired” for current employees (Article 5, § 7).  The new Tier 5, were it enacted, would affect future employees, not those who are already members of a pension system.  (There is a special risk for adjuncts, however, because adjuncts—unlike full-timers—can choose at any time to join a pension plan and are treated as “new employees” whenever they first join.)

Governor Paterson included in his 2010 budget a proposal for a new Tier 5, in which the retirement age would rise from 55 to 62, and which would require employees to contribute to their pensions throughout their careers, not just in the first ten years as we do now.  In 2007, the PSC and NYSUT won enactment of pension legislation that provided equity for participants in TIAA-CREF and other Optional Retirement Plans.  Under the new legislation, the State and City picked up the 3 percent pension contribution made by individuals after ten years of employment.  If Tier 5 were to pass and to include CUNY faculty and staff, future CUNY employees would no longer be covered by this provision.

After meeting strong resistance from unions throughout the state, including from the PSC, the legislature rejected the proposal for Tier 5 and passed the budget without it.  Since then, however, two of the state’s largest public-employee unions, the Public Employees Federation and the Civil Service Employees Association, agreed not to oppose a Tier 5 in exchange for avoiding threatened layoffs and other penalties.  And on June 22 the United Federation of Teachers made a separate agreement to accept inferior pension terms for future employees, similar to those in the proposed Tier 5 (though without the higher retirement age), in return for gains for current employees.  The PSC was not part of any of these agreements.

What’s at Stake
A lower pension tier is a structural change, one that hurts generations to come.  We have seen too many such changes in the academy, above all the shift to an underpaid part-time and contingent workforce.  Such concessions immediately force unions into a reactive, defensive position; we spend years trying to undo them rather than building something new.  New York’s unions have been working to reverse the concessions of Tier 3 ever since it passed in 1976, only to face a demand for Tier 5 now.

Pensions are deferred income; they are an essential part of our compensation as CUNY faculty and staff.  Reducing the pension benefit—or requiring employees to contribute more of their income for it—reduces total compensation and makes future positions less well compensated than current ones.  Given the working conditions at CUNY, the University already has to compete hard to attract the best new talent.  Relegating future employees to a lower pension tier would make recruitment even harder.  Everyone should be entitled to a secure retirement, and the best way to protect that right for ourselves is to protect it for all working people.

Tier 5 Would Not Close the Budget Gap
The real issue is political, not fiscal.  It is a myth that Tier 5 is the answer to the current budget shortfall.  A lower pension tier would not add one penny to this year’s budget because the money it generates is not realized for ten years.  New York State’s budget crisis was not caused by overspending on pensions or education; it was caused by thirty years of tax policy that reduced the top tax rate by half and deprived the state of income.  Together with NYSUT, the PSC continues to press the legislature to address the real cause of the fiscal shortfall.

Please join us in this effort.  Let us know that you’re willing to respond to plans for action against Tier 5 by clicking here.  Our strongest defense against this concession is your engagement and support.  Thank you.

In solidarity,

Barbara Bowen

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Concerned Tax Payer permalink
    September 14, 2009 pm30 3:38 pm 3:38 pm

    Vote FOR Tier V, its only fair that state employees contribute to their retirement the same way private sector employees (who have no job or retirement security) do. It is unconscionable entitlement to to think otherwise.


  1. 12 more years? « JD2718

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