Public employee unions can’t invoke the Triborough Amendment to preserve old pension plans that did not require employee contributions, the state Court of Appeals held in two cases this week. The rulings, favoring management in the cities of Yonkers and Oswego, were a solid win for taxpayers.
Firefighters unions in both cities were striving to preserve non-contributory pension benefits for employees hired after their contracts expired in 2009. In December 2009, Governor David Paterson signed a new Tier 5 pension law that eliminated non-contributory police and firefighter pension plans, requiring employees hired after January 10, 2010, to kick in 3 percent of their salaries to the New York State Police and Fire Retirement System. (The new plan, which was superseded succeeded last year by Tier 6, also limited “pensionable” overtime to 15 percent of regular pay.)
Governor Cuomo’s proposed two percent cap on interest arbitration awards to police and firefighters unions was stripped from the final Article 7 budget bill dealing with Education, Labor and Family Assistance issues. At the same time, the Senate and Assembly majorities were unable to get the governor to agree to their preference for a straight four-year extender of the arbitration law, which expires June 30.
This is good news: it means there is still a chance that Cuomo will use his legislative leverage on this issue to demand more meaningful changes that could really help localities get control of their public safety compensation costs.
A second small plus in the final budget is that the Legislature also dropped Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate all state-mandated reporting requirements for local governments. On the surface, it may have sounded like a good way to cut red tape, but it also could have jeopardized the continued existence of important accountability tools like the School Property Tax Report Card and state comptroller’s detailed reports on municipal finances.
Rejecting almost every cost-sharing proposal suggested by the management side, a state arbitration panel has awarded a two-year, 6.6 percent increase in base salaries to members of the police officers union in the Village of Rockville Centre in Nassau County. (See correction and clarification at end of item.)
The combination of an above-inflation salary hike and protection of existing perks for Rockville Centre cops is the latest example of a syndrome that has driven up and locked in unsustainable compensation costs for police and firefighters across New York State. Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo seems on the verge of blowing a golden opportunity to force meaningful arbitration reform.
“Mandate relief remains elusive,” is one of the state-related headlines in today’s Albany Times Union — and that much, at least, is true. Unfortunately, the article beneath the headline repeats a familiar canard about the origins of the Triborough Amendment.
Rick Karlin of the paper’s Capitol Bureau writes:
The Triborough Amendment is one of the most-cited mandates.
Under the rule, which came as part of an agreement by public unions not to go on strike, the terms and conditions of an existing contract stay in place even if it is expired and workers and management haven’t settled on a new deal. [Emphasis added.]
Unions have long claimed that there was a link between Triborugh and the strike prohibition. But this is simply not true.
It seems like everyone who counts in Albany could get a pay bump before the year’s out.
Pay raises are basically an annual tradition for government employees. As The Chief reports (subscription required), about 75 percent of the members of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) and 67 percent of Public Employees Federation (PEF) members are getting increases from step increments and longevity bonuses, despite the state’s supposed wage freeze. (The unions say their members are still losing money due to payless furlough days and increases in health insurance premiums.) Teachers often get two raises each year, one negotiated in their contract as a “raise,” and one as a “step” increase.
Nicole Gelinas has a must-read op-ed in the New York Post today on the sinking fortunes of New York City’s financial sector. Her message:
Thanks to Washington’s support for big banks, New York City has been a cocoon of prosperity compared to the rest of the nation over the last three years.
But banks can’t stay on the dole forever — and the city’s done nothing in the 37 months since Lehman Bros. collapsed to prepare for a leaner Wall Street.
Now that the state Public Employees Federation (PEF) has rejected a proposed contract, Governor Andrew Cuomo is moving forward with 3,500 layoffs. Or, then again, maybe not.
This article in the Albany Times Union suggests there is an 80 percent likelihood the governor and union will reach a new deal without layoffs. The newspaper also reports that “Cuomo is demanding that any modifications [to the rejected PEF contract] have no costs.”
“No costs”? How about those savings of “$75 million this fiscal year, $92 million next fiscal year, and almost $400 million over the contract term” that the governor was supposedly counting on?
To the consternation of the New York’s largest state employee union, Gov. Cuomo has cleared the way for an increase in the share of health insurance premiums paid by retired state workers.
New York has one of the nation’s largest and highest-paid state and local government workforces, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.
Based on March 2010 payrolls, the average annual salary per full-time equivalent (FTE) employee of state and local government in New York came to $62,365, third highest among the 50 states and 24 percent above the national average. Only California and New Jersey paid higher average government salaries. The state ranking breakdown is at the Empire Center’s Data Bank.
The high cost of living in downstate New York and powerful public employee unions provide much of the explanation for its relatively high government salaries. But those factors don’t completely explain the exceptional size of the government workforce in the Empire State, as illustrated in the nearby chart.
Union membership in New York City remains the highest in the country but has declined in recent years, according to a new (but not yet publicly released) report from the City University’s Murphy Institute. The report’s main finding, as summarized by Crain’s NY Business:
Among workers living in the city, 22.9% were union members in the 18 months ending in June, down from 24.6% in January 2009 through June 2010, the report found. Losses in union membership have been disproportionately concentrated in the private sector.