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Mental Health Update

May 21, 2024
Mental Health Update

Governor Hochul and Support for State Pension Plan Restructuring

Very interesting article and another compelling reason why there should be support for a Retirement/Pension Bill Study.

In the article, the Governor acknowledges that Tier 6 Pension needed to be restructured because there is less demand for state and local government officials.  The reason she advocated for the restructured pension plan is that it will ‘encourage more people to stay, and we can recruit more people.”

That is exactly what we say about a retirement system/pension plan for the not for profit sector.  We do the work of government, we are funded by government and yet we lose staff every day because we don’t have a pension system that ‘encourages people to stay and recruit more people’

It is time for equity for the not for profit sector.   Please reach out to me today to join our growing coalition.

Support S. 8660 and A. 6839A—the pension/retirement system study bill.



Unions enter the homestretch of Albany’s session on a winning streak

By Bill Mahoney

Unions have always been a contender for the most powerful constituency in the country’s second-most unionized state.

Unions enter the homestretch of Albany’s session on a winning streak (back)

By Bill Mahoney

ALBANY, New York — On nearly every major issue at the center of New York’s $237 billion state budget, the winner was the same: organized labor.

Unions have always been a contender for the most powerful constituency in the country’s second-most unionized state.

But their victories in last month’s deal were particularly pronounced: more generous pensions for public workers, a deal for wage increases as part of the state’s plan for more housing and teachers unions’ ability to land concessions in the extension of mayoral control for New York City schools.

Union leaders and lawmakers said they saw opportunities to get a deal on several priorities that they shared.

“Labor is an important partner to us,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “They’re the key to the middle class, they protect workers, they encourage business. Unions stand for the right things.”

The strong support for labor is also a political win for the Democrats who dominate Albany.

In an election year in which some lawmakers have been hesitant to tackle contentious issues, boosting workers keeps an election-season ally without providing fodder for progressives or conservatives.

A boost for Tier VI
The budget included language that changed the calculation for pensions for state workers who have been hired since 2012, basing it on the average of their highest-earning stretch of three years rather than five.

It’s a clear sign that policymakers are retreating from a focus on rolling back the perks available to state workers over recent decades.

Former Gov. David Paterson negotiated the creation of a new “Tier V” level of employment in 2009 to reduce benefits for new hires at a time the state was struggling to balance the books. Three years later, successor Andrew Cuomo created a “Tier VI” that provided even fewer benefits for new hires.

Public employee unions seethed — particularly after the creation of Tier VI, which won legislative approval as part of a deal that included gerrymandered lines for state legislative seats. But there was little chance of winning any rollbacks to Cuomo’s signature financial reform so long as he stayed in office.

“The previous governor created Tier VI, so the idea that he would fix it, the chances were slight,” New York State United Teachers President Melinda Person said in an interview.

Cuomo left in scandal in 2021, and Hochul’s ascension opened the door to chipping away at the plan he said would save taxpayers $80 billion over 30 years. The budget that passed in 2022 reduced the time it takes to vest from 10 years to five.

“When Governor Hochul fixed the vesting piece initially and signaled a real willingness to work with organized labor to improve public pensions, I think we saw that we had somebody we could work with and that would care about the impact that these pension changes had in New York state,” Person said.

At the time of the 2022 changes, unions began to discuss what other pieces of Tier VI they might seek to attack next.

An immediate wholesale rollback to the pre-Paterson status quo wasn’t plausible, so labor leaders debated “what we can achieve that can benefit everybody,” said Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence.

They wound up settling on the shift to the salary calculation as a change that could make everybody from first responders to subway staff happy. And that issue was at the center of a “Fix Tier Six” campaign that was visible throughout the Capitol during budget season.

The change is no small budget item. The impact to state and local retirement systems will be around $400 million in the next year, according to actuarial analyses from the systems. That includes a $196 million cost increase to New York City alone in the next year.

But unions hammered on the idea that improving pension plans would help reduce the workforce shortages that have arisen in practically every corner of the public sector.

That helped ensure the campaign faced almost no opposition this time around. The 2012 push for Tier VI was backed by local officials such as New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg as cities struggled with rising payroll costs.

This year, officials such as Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown wound up backing the campaign as overtime costs in the face of a dwindling workforce became a more pressing burden for governments than a pension bump. Even Albany’s Republicans, usually eager to accuse Democrats of spending too much money, pushed for changes.

“It was just a perfect storm,” Spence said. It was a rare instance when “workers themselves, the union, and the employers” were all eager to improve benefits for employees.

This year’s change rolled back only one of several pieces of Cuomo’s Tier VI.

But it also signified a shift in the discourse — rather than talking about pensions as a cost that needs to be curtailed, state leaders were on board with framing them as a key part of attracting people to government jobs.

I spent 14 years in local government; it was a time when there was a lot of demand to become a state or local government worker,” Hochul said when announcing the budget deal last month. “Sadly, those days are over. But I know what these investments will do — encourage more people to stay, and we can recruit more people.”

Other wins
While the pension victory might represent the most significant shift in Albany’s politics this year, it’s far from the only recent win for labor. In practically every major issue in this year’s budget, unions walked away as the big winners.

Consider housing, the one subject that served as the linchpin for nearly everything else in negotiations. Leaders repeatedly warned that it was such a complex subject that everybody was likely to be disappointed.

“Everyone who had an interest in this was probably going to not walk away happy,” Heastie warned as talks were winding down. “I think we accomplished that mission. I don’t think anyone’s happy.”

Yet there was an exception — construction unions lauded a “monumental accomplishment” that created a $40 minimum wage on some projects. That came about because Hochul punted negotiations on a development tax break to labor and the Real Estate Board of New York.

So even as tenant advocates and developers wound up unhappy with the housing deal like Heastie predicted, it wound up being a win for labor. Hochul’s victory lap on that portion of the budget featured speakers from SEIU 32BJ and the Hotel & Gaming Trades Council.

Labor also flexed its muscle in more traditional ways in this year’s budget talks. Healthcare workers, as part of their decades-old coalition with the hospital industry, were able to beat back Medicaid funding cuts.

And while it has become a familiar narrative for the amount spent on schools to increase as budget talks drag on, this year’s spending bump came after Hochul proposed reductions to more than half the state’s districts.

“That was our number one area of focus, because coming out of the executive budget, we were looking at over $400 million of cuts,” Person said.

Education unions also played a role in an extension of mayoral control of New York City public schools that reemerged in budget talks in the final weeks. The United Federation of Teachers helped win several concessions from the city in a subject that’s traditionally dealt with in June.

Not everybody was happy with the budget’s results.

Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos pointed to subjects such as temporary disability insurance reform that were not included in the deal.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Ramos said. “A handful of unions got something, but I would even argue that while the teachers might have gotten more of a commitment on small class sizes, I don’t see dollars behind building more schools and hiring more teachers.”

There were also plenty of smaller victories. The budget wound up including at least a half dozen perks for specific sectors of the state workforce, such as SUNY police officers and New York City fire prevention inspectors, that had stalled in recent years.

Lawmakers “looked at the realities of our budget needs” to figure out what “can be done” to help groups like these, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

“We were happy to be able to do what we’ve done and will continue to work with the various groups to move things forward,” she said.

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