Wednesday, March 7, 2012


From Montauk Pt. to Niagara Falls, N.Y.'s public workers came to Albany on
March 6 to lobby the state legislature. photo: Ove Overmyer
Albany, N.Y. – More than 2,000 public employees organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) traveled to the Capitol on Tuesday to meet legislators and hammer home the message that Gov. Cuomo's proposed pension reform is unfair and should not be part of the budget process.

In a huge show of emotion and force, the workers also argued against Cuomo's draconian proposed defined-benefit changes which represent a 40 percent cut on future benefits.

At a noon time luncheon in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, key legislators publicly said they won't approve any plans to change the state pension system without the sign-off of New York State’s public employee unions. Earlier in the day, Gov. Cuomo met with labor leaders to discuss changes he proposed as part of the state budget.

This indicates movement toward compromise on the pension issue, which has emerged as the major obstacle to this year’s budget talks.

Cuomo has proposed a new Tier 6 pension package that increases an employee's contribution to the traditional defined-benefit pension system — in which workers are guaranteed a fixed payment based on their final average salary and years of service — and offers a defined-contribution plan, similar to a 401(k).

AFSCME as well as CSEA began airing television ads around the state emphasizing what they say is the harshness of the cuts. The AFL-CIO has been airing less specific radio advertisements arguing for fairness. The choice to focus on the benefit is a shift from earlier opposition, which had focused on the defined-contribution part of the plan.

"That was a radical departure for how you provide for retirement security, but the way the defined-benefit was structured is also draconian," said CSEA spokesman Steve Madarasz..

Politically speaking, middle-class workers have been flexing their muscles since January 17, the day Cuomo released his budget. Thousands of concerned public workers who descended on the Capitol yesterday was a visible reminder to legislators that their middle-class advocacy will be monitored-- they can be potent allies come election time, or they can be on the losing end of a re-election battle come November.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “The governor has to work out with the unions a reasonable approach to saving money. ... There is a deal to be made that will safeguard secure retirement and save money for the state of New York, and that's the interest."

Silver indicated his chamber would not enact a budget with a pension plan the unions did not accept. Deputy Senate Minority Leader Tom Libous, (R-Binghamton), agreed, adding Cuomo's proposal "needs a lot of work."

So the question remains how much Cuomo is willing to give. He described himself as "flexible" and joked he's "a veritable Gumby" on the issue, so long as he achieves necessary savings.

Cuomo met Tuesday night with AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento and other public-sector labor leaders. The outcome was not immediately known, but a gubernatorial spokesman described the meeting as routine.

Rochester area Assemblymember Harry Bronson, (D-131) meets with
CSEA activists outside the NYS Assembly Chamber on March 6, 2012.
photo: Lynn Miller

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