Pandemic Heroes Deserve an ERI

After several months of intense negotiations last year, our union and others in the Central Labor Council worked out a temporary no-layoff agreement with Mayor de Blasio that prevented the layoffs of 22,000 public workers.

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido

We stood firm in our position that the City no longer could balance its budget on the backs of hard-working men and women. In exchange, we agreed that the City could defer payments to our union’s benefit funds, with the stipulation that an anticipated $5 billion in budget relief from Washington would extend this agreement until June 2022.

With passage of the American Rescue Act, the City received $6 billion in aid, and Mayor Bill de Blasio affirmed that layoffs are off the table for another year.

The deferred benefit fund payments were a small price to pay to save the jobs of essential workers during this pandemic, especially since we will get that money back.

What matters the most is saving the jobs of our members who risked their lives every day to make sure this city continued running during the worst pandemic in a century. The only thank you that matters for these workers is that they retain their jobs and feel financially secure.

First responders, such as EMS workers, were among those threatened with layoffs. So were the jobs of workers in social services who provided emergency aid and mental health benefits and also in our schools, including workers who gave out free Grab-and-Go meals.

During the worst of the pandemic, they were lauded daily as heroes by politicians and the media. Yet, by summer, these same frontline heroes faced the abyss of unemployment in a devastated economy. Communities of color and new immigrants had it even worse, as they were disproportionately impacted by the year-long crisis. Many of our members live in those communities and were personally impacted by the coronavirus.

This is not how you treat frontline heroes. Given that, one has to wonder if some who set public budgetary policy are out of touch and isolated from the harsh realities of what is really going on in our neighborhoods. We know better, and so do many of our city and state elected leaders.

They just choose to ignore it.

Fortunately, through our hard-fought negotiations, we’ve secured peace of mind until June 2022. But what about our workers who have answered the call daily throughout this crisis and are ready for some much-deserved rest and relaxation?

There is an initiative in the New York State Legislature that would help. DC 37 wholeheartedly backs the Early Retirement Incentive bill sponsored by State Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assembly Member Peter Abbate. Passage of the ERI not only shows our workers the respect they deserve, it also protects against any possible backtracking by the next administration, providing an opportunity for retirement instead of layoffs. 

By making certain City titles eligible for retirement starting at age 55 with 25 years of service, the ERI provides three distinct benefits. First, an ERI allows those who qualify to retire with the guaranteed security of a City pension without a penalty. Considering the sacrifices essential City workers already have made, this is a just reward for their service.

New York City’s actuary estimates the savings for the City from an ERI is about $900 million. The second benefit is that an ERI provides a path for younger workers to enter civil service. Given an environment where jobs are scarce to none, new positions offer opportunities for a new generation.

The third and arguably most important reason to support an Early Retirement Incentive is what it prevents — a future threat of layoffs of City workers.

The economic consequences from the pandemic are not going away anytime soon. If the next administration tries to solve the problem with layoffs, we’ll be ready to fight. Not only is it morally wrong to lay off our city’s heroes, it’s also financially shortsighted. Those on the firing line would immediately qualify for unemployment, thereby significantly increasing government expenditures, and they will seek social services and additional benefits, another huge hit on already devastated city and state budgets. The costs from a potential layoff place an undue burden on the City’s budget, thereby hindering an economic recovery.

DC 37 is leading a strong lobbying effort in Albany. We need you to stand with us to press Albany legislators to pass this bill. An ERI is a key component in helping New York City recover from the pandemic. A strong public workforce that proved itself in running a city in the worst of times, is made up of people at their best.

Their reward must be a paycheck, not a pink slip.

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