Mayor Pumps Brakes On Extensive Use Of Retirement Incentive

Mayor Pumps Brakes On Extensive Use Of Retirement Incentive
(article from The Chief, posted on April 14) By BOB HENNELLY

Mayor de Blasio was less than encouraging April 13 about offering an early retirement incentive to city employees after state legislators included that option for non-uniformed employees as part of the state’s $212-billion budget a week earlier.

He explained that while it was his call on whether the incentive was extended and to which employee groups, he was “also very concerned about getting done the work we need done for the people as we try to bring this city back.”

‘Does It Make Sense?’
“It just happened,” he said during his daily media briefing. “We are trying to look at it and decide if it is something that makes sense for New York City, and how to proceed. And we will be talking to our union partners.” The push for the retirement incentive, which would provide eligible employees with a month of additional pension credit for each year of service up to 36 months, came from the Municipal Labor Committee beginning last summer in the wake of his threatening to lay off up to 22,000 city workers unless the unions agreed to $1 billion in savings to deal with a $9-billion budget gap caused by the impact of the coronavirus.

The unions had produced $800 million in short-term savings by deferring payment of wage and/or benefit increases by the time Congress approved President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which provided the city with more than $6 billion in added Federal aid. The union savings came in return for a no-layoff guarantee through June 30, which the Mayor said would be extended for another 12 months if the city received at least $5 billion in combined state and Federal funding above what it previously had been given.

Although the no-layoff guarantee had sharply diminished the urgency for a retirement incentive to reduce the number of city workers, Albany sources said District Council 37 and the United Federation of Teachers had continued to press the bill.

‘Fair and Just’
In a statement following its inclusion in the budget, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said the retirement incentive was “not only fair, but also just” for employees who kept the city’s “round-the-clock essential services” running throughout the pandemic.

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Committee on Governmental Employees Chairman Peter Abbate, stipulated that city  employees deemed eligible by the Mayor and their agency heads would have the option to retire early, either based on having reached age 55 with 25 years of service or getting up to three years of additional service time and pension credit to make them eligible to retire at a younger age and with less time on the job.

According to union officials, the coronavirus, which has killed more than 300 city workers, has taken a particularly heavy toll on older employees at a higher risk of suffering long-term health consequences if they recover from the virus.

Shelly Shulman, the president of the Managerial Employees Association, which has 16,000 members who are ineligible for union representation, said in an April 13 phone interview that they were concerned that they would be excluded from the program.

‘Don’t Exclude Us’
“We want to see transparency and as many people as possible eligible to take it, and we don’t want to see anyone harmed because they don’t have a union,” he said. “It should be based on what the legislation said, not on union politics.” Mr. Shulman noted that MEA members were often required to serve in jobs that left them vulnerable to infection.

“We lost Derik Braswell, who worked at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens-Ground Zero for the pandemic,” he said. “He, along with others, had to go out on the hospital floor and help feed the patients.” Mr. Braswell was part of a trio of employees at Elmhurst Hospital that included Wayne Edwards and Communications Workers of America Local 1180 shop steward Priscilla Carrow, who managed the personal protective equipment inventory and all died early on in the pandemic.

‘Give Managers Fair Shot’
“Older people are happy to see the possibility of early retirement, but everyone is paranoid other people are going to get it and they won’t,” Mr. Shulman said. “Managers should have a fair shot based on their title.”

“We are working with the unions right now to try and figure out just who will be eligible, but there are far fewer people who will actually qualify,” City Council Member I. Daneek Miller, who chairs the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, said during an April 13 phone interview.

He explained that the de Blasio administration had to assess the consequences if significant numbers of people in some job titles took the incentive “on the impact on the services getting delivered.” The lack of civil service exams the city has given since the pandemic meant there was a limited pool of replacements on hiring lists.

“The city hasn’t done a lot of hiring in a lot of titles over the years,” he said. “We have to really take a look at how efficiently we have been, or not been, delivering services. Just how prepared are we?”

Mr. Miller said raised concerns before about the lack of replacements for a municipal government that “even before COVID was likely to see two thirds of its workforce eligible for retirement over the next five years.”

Current Attrition a Factor
Gauging which employees, and in which agencies, the city can afford to lose will be informed by the existing attrition rates for those jobs. The Independent Budget Office just reported that last year the city’s headcount shrank by 8,000. The Mayor had implemented an attrition plan early in the pandemic to not fill 5,000 civilian-employee jobs as they became vacant, allowing agencies to fill just one of every three positions as staffers left. For 2021, the planned headcount reductions included 723 in the Department of Social Services, 308 for the Administration for Children’s Services, 297 for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 175 at the City University of New York and 141 for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Last year, according to the IBO, the largest headcount declines were in the NYPD, which lost 1,802 uniformed employees; the Department of Education, which lost 1,767 pedagogical staffers; and the 893 uniformed staffers lost by the Department of Correction, the 558 civilian NYPD staff who departed; and 536 uniformed workers in the Department of Sanitation and 486 in the Fire Department.