Agreement Protects Pensions of Workers at Cultural Institutions

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Local 1559 President Peter Vreeland, center, and Vice President Erik O’Brien (at Vreeland’s right) meet with members about the local’s petition drive to protect their pension. More than 1,200 DC 37 members are in the Cultural Institutions Retirement System.

By GREGORY N. HEIRES

The union reached a tentative agreement that protects the pensions of DC 37 members working at cultural institutions and other workers who are employed at day-care centers.

On Aug. 11, DC 37 concluded talks on the five-year agreement with the employers’ representatives, the Cultural Institutions Group and the Day Care Council of New York, after months of tough negotiations to find a way to preserve the Cultural Institutions Retirement System (CIRS).

“The members of our bargaining committee made the hard choices and took the responsible actions needed to protect our hard-won benefits for current employees and to preserve our pension benefits into the future,” DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said.

The agreement will maintain the benefits of the 9,000 current employees, including 1,200 DC 37 members enrolled in the pension system. They will still be able to retire at 62 and not have to contribute to the plan.

But to ensure adequate funding, the agreement calls for a second pension tier for new CIRS employees. The second tier, which requires new employees to contribute 2 percent of their annual salary to their pensions and raises their retirement age to 64, goes into effect Oct. 1. The agreement also requires employers to increase their contribution from 9.1 percent to 11.1 percent of payroll.

The retirement system’s funding problems date from the administration of former Mayor Michael J. Bloomberg, who privatized and closed hundreds of city day-care centers. That caused the pension system to lose the contributions of the city and employers to pensions of 3,200 out of 4,800 city day-care workers who lost their jobs.

Cuthbert Dickenson, president of Quasi-Public Employees Local 374, said the union stood its ground by insisting that higher-paid employees contribute more than 2 percent. Employees paid more than $70,000 must contribute 2.5 percent and employees making over $100,000 must pay 3 percent.

“If union workers were to be made to sacrifice, we felt it was only fair and equitable for higher-paid employees to assume a little greater burden,” Dickenson said.

The agreement allows current employees to discontinue making a minimum 2 percent mandatory contribution to their 401(k) accounts, beginning next year. New employees can choose not to participate in the 401(k) plan.

The committee was under pressure to settle because the plan was moving toward “critical status” by the end of the summer. The classification would have given the trustees unilateral power to impose draconian benefit changes or even the close the plan.

“We agreed to changes necessary to retain the status quo for members currently in the plan, but I don’t feel good about the second tier for new members,” Peter Vreeland, president of American Museum of Natural History Local 1559, said.

“The agreement reflects the climate we are living under, where pension plans are being attacked around the country,” Jeremy Sanders, the president of Wildlife Conservation Society Local 1501, said. “But I am hopeful we will be able to improve the plan for our members in future negotiations.”

As negotiations heated up, Garrido joined the bargaining committee, which spent a year and a half in the difficult negotiations. Dickenson, Sanders, Vreeland and fellow local presidents Wilson Souffrant  (Local 1502) and William Vera (Local 1306) served on the committee, along with David Paskin, director of the Research and Negotiations Dept. and several other DC 37 staffers.

Members will vote on the contract through a mail ballot, which will be tabulated by the impartial American Arbitration Association on Sept. 7.

 

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