Legislative Agenda

ONGOING INITIATIVES

Pension Systems Protection

The state, police, fire and local retirement systems were designed to provide security for public employees in retirement. Pension contributions are made by employers in lieu of salary and other negotiated benefits. The reserves in the pension systems belong to the public employees and should not be used for any purpose other than retiree benefits.

Early Retirement Without Reduction of Service

Periodically, state and local governments encourage employees to retire early. Incentives may be targeted to certain areas of the workforce or titles. However, eliminating positions from the public service can cause unacceptable cuts in services, and even burden the remaining workforce. Further elimination of titles must not negatively impact on the level of service provided.

Benefit Improvements for Survivors of Workers

Killed in the Line of Duty

It is necessary to provide adequately for families of public employees who die in the line of duty. It should be the policy of the state to upgrade public employees who die in the line of duty to the top-step salary.

Ensure Safe Work Environment

Ensure that the public employee workforce has the tools needed to prevent occupational illness in any future, risky work environment. In spite of state, county and municipal budget constraints, public employers must continue to ensure a safe workplace. Every effort must be made to promote compliance with health and safety measures to ensure employer policies provide a safe working environment, and that all equipment meets the necessary standards.

Progressive Methods of Taxation

Public services are the foundation upon which commerce, industry and a civil society are built. Public employees at every level of government are citizens who provide these essential services. They must be guaranteed compensation, benefits and pensions that will allow them to live with dignity in their communities, and help them sustain the state and local economy. Maintaining these public services is the responsibility of every citizen, business and institution. Those who benefit most from the prosperity that public services provide have a greater responsibility to sustain public services. Therefore, the New York State Public Employee Conference supports progressive methods of taxation that put the responsibility of paying taxes on citizens, businesses and institutions who benefit most from this prosperity and have a greater ability to pay.

Improvements to the 9/11 Presumptive Disability Legislation

While the passage and signing of the 9/11 Presumptive Disability laws was indeed laudable, we all are aware that the existing legislation is imperfect. The 9/11 Governor’s Worker Protection Task Force is making recommendations for improving the existing legislation. We continue to support efforts to obtain funding, federal or otherwise, to address any 9/11-related issues.

Extenders

Any temporary legislation that provides benefits to public employees should be passed.

WE OPPOSE

  • Constitutional Convention – Conducting a Constitutional Convention simply to mollify those who contend that such a convention would fix all the state’s problems is unfair to all members of our citizenry, past, present and future.  The New York State Public Employee Conference strongly opposes a Constitutional Convention.
  • Any Reduction in Pension Benefits for Public Employees
  • Any Legislative Attempt to Undermine Collective Bargaining and the Existing Binding Arbitration Process
  • Residency Requirements and/or Credits for Public Employees
  • Inappropriate Consolidation of Services
  • Privatization – We oppose the corruption and loss of jobs caused by privatization
  • Any Diminishment of Health Insurance Benefits for Retirees
  • Any Attempt to Re-Introduce a Residency Tax on Employees of the City of New York
  • Any Commuter Tax on Employees of the City of New York,  including the “1127” Tax

WE SUPPORT 

Workers’ Compensation Reform

The Workers’ Compensation system does not meet the needs of the workforce. It is essential that diagnostic tests be performed in a timely basis so that treatment can result in a worker being restored to health and returned to the work force. The time frame promulgated in Section 71 of the Civil Service law needs to be increased to two years. We are supporting the following:

1. Any bill that changes the payment structure to injured workers from incremental payments to one lump sum payment. Historically, “Schedule Loss of Use” awards were in fact in one lump sum. However, the NYS Court of Appeals concluded that such payments contravened the specific language of the Workers’ Compensation Law.

2. Support a bill to include those who are permanently and totally disabled and who are also eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. The purpose of this bill is to create a presumption of permanent total disability for those claimants who are subsequently also found eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. It should be noted that it is presently very common for injured workers to be found totally disabled by Social Security yet only partially disabled by the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board.

3. Expansion of World Trade Center Rescue, Recovery and Cleanup Operations Benefits to those who “repaired, cleaned or rehabilitated vehicles or equipment, including emergency vehicle radio equipment owned by the City of New York, that were contaminated by debris in the World Trade Center site, regardless of whether the work was performed within the defined WTC site, provided such work was performed prior to completion of the decontamination of such vehicles or equipment. The purpose of this amendment is to afford coverage to those workers who are responsible for the cleanup and rehabilitation of vehicles from the WTC site and cleaned off premises. Numerous workers were exposed to contaminated debris and are not entitled to benefits. We believe that the failure to include these workers was an oversight.

Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)

The New York State Public Employee Conference applauds the efforts of our elected officials in providing a permanent Cost of Living Adjustment for our retirees. However, we submit that further legislation is needed to make improvements. We seek legislation to grant a “Catch-up” for all those individuals who retired prior to 1966. Spouses of deceased retirees currently receive 50%. That should be increased to 100%. The cap should also be increased from $18,000 to $25,000, and eligibility should be changed from age 62 and retired for five years, to age 55 and retired for five years.

Pension Re-Openers

Remedial action is needed, since many public servants have been wrongfully denied their rightful retirement benefits. Such denial causes unreasonable hardships as retirees progress further into their retirement years. NYSPEC seeks legislation that will revive the cause of action for those members who took the necessary steps to qualify for retroactive membership, but were denied, and failed to bring action within the time allowed by law, or whose case was dismissed without prejudice or not decided upon the merits.

Ensuring Safe Nurse Staffing

Enactment of legislation is urgently needed to ensure that patients receive quality health care services. Research studies and consumer satisfaction polls clearly show a relationship between RN staffing and quality of care. New York’s workforce is entitled to the best health care services, and that must include an optimal nurse-to-patient ratio. Minimum safe staffing levels must be regulated to protect the public from harm. Requiring safe staffing would prohibit employers from using mandatory overtime as a nurse staffing solution other than in defined emergencies.

Retiree Health Benefits Guarantee

Subject to the provisions of any general, specific, or local law, charter, code, ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation or contractual agreement, and to the extent not inconsistent therewith, any legislation that will guarantee health benefits for Public Employees who retire and that guarantees the continuation of existing benefits for those who have already retired.

Military Buyback for Veterans

Certain current public employees enjoy the ability to purchase retirement service credit for time spent serving in the military.  It is unfair to ignore the service that was provided by all veterans to our state and country. Legislation is needed to overcome and remedy this injustice by providing all veterans, active and retired, the ability to purchase service credit for time spent in the military, regardless of when or where they served, or whether they were or are vested in their respective pension systems.

Competitive Exams for Appointments
and Promotions

For more than a century, the public’s confidence in our democratic form of government has been reinforced when only the most qualified candidates having an equal opportunity to compete are appointed and promoted objectively to the public service. New York State’s Constitution Article V, Section 6 requires that appointments and promotions to the public service be made in accordance with merit and fitness and: “as far as practicable, by examination which, as practicable, shall be competitive;…”

History has shown and we strongly believe that competitive examinations are practicable. Therefore, NYSPEC supports the enforcement of this enduring constitutional provision as the cornerstone for the selection of qualified individuals in the public service. Furthermore, we oppose any attempts to circumvent, diminish, or undermine the full enforcement of Civil Service Law.

Independent Hearing Officer

Recent decisions from the Court of Appeals have nullified the employee’s ability to receive a fair and objective hearing during disciplinary processes.  This stands in direct contrast to basic American jurisprudence. NYSPEC advocates new legislation to require the appointment of an independent hearing officer for those cases in which an employee faces dismissal. Every employee should have the right to a fair and neutral hearing officer when his/her career is threatened. This longstanding inequality should be corrected.

Tier Equity

There are several proposals that would provide some type of tier equity for many of our members.  For example, all public employees should be eligible for Line of Duty Benefits equal to that of Tier II.  Furthermore, any caps or limitations on earning of service credit affecting any public employee should be eliminated.  It is our intention to review all proposals for tier equity and to support appropriate measures.

Permanent Heart Bill

Several decades ago, the “heart bill” was passed as a temporary law to provide police officers and firefighters assistance in the event their employment was disrupted as a result of heart disease. Physical evidence clearly indicates that not only police officers and firefighters, but other public employees, because of the pressure and stress of their jobs, suffer heart disease at a higher rate than the general public, and the Legislature has acknowledged this with the addition of correction officers, EMTs, sanitation workers and court officers to the heart bill. The time has come to make the heart bill permanent, and to include other classifications that are similarly situated.

Heart Bill Clarification

Clarifies presumptions pertaining to heart-related disabilities or deaths suffered by members of the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System, and the New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System. Maintains that a presumption exists that the injury was incurred in the performance of the victim’s duties and was the natural and proximate result of an accident.

Revision of the Taylor Law

The underlying tenet of the Taylor Law is that all parties are to negotiate in good faith. Dragging out contract negotiations, sometimes for many years after the expiration of a contract, is financially harmful to public employees and their families. It also can cause severely low morale. Currently the law is weighted heavily in favor of the employer, providing a no-strike clause with severe financial penalties and loss of dues check off. The sections of the Taylor Law that protect employees’ rights must remain intact.

Statewide Variable Supplements Fund

We seek to introduce and promote legislation that will provide all members who are employed by state and local governments, and who are members of a public retirement system who retire for service, with a benefit that is com- parable to the so-called “Variable Supplements Fund” that is received by certain uniformed forces of the City of New York.

Pensions Guarantee

Pensions for public employees must be guaranteed.

  • No future diminution of sufficient funding and no “raids” on pension systems’ funds for any reasons should be al- lowed. The current climate of elimination or diminishment of pensions in the private sector is deplorable, and can be blamed solely on the insufficient funding and poor management of those private pension plans. NYSPEC needs the help of the Legislature in monitoring and ensuring these guarantees, and supports efforts to expand Martin Act protections to public employee and private sector union systems. This bill “Authorizes a public retirement system, as defined in Section 501 of the Retirement and Social Security Law, mutual fund, or other institutional investor to bring actions for damages sustained due to the commission of certain prohibited and criminal acts in violation of the Martin Act (Fraudulent Practice in Respect to Stocks, Bonds and Other Securities).”
  • Once a public employee has vested rights in a pension system, that pension must be guaranteed.

“211” Waivers

Waivers for continuing employment of public employees in the public sector should be treated in a fashion that ad- dresses the needs of the specific employment situation, and does not inhibit advancement from within.

Fiscal Notes

The ability to obtain fiscal notes with respect to pension legislation affecting NYC employees must be addressed.

COBRA

All public employees’ survivors should be permitted to purchase COBRA at the same rates as the survivors of Uniformed Services’ employees.

Upholding PERB and OCB Decisions

Employers must be required to abide by the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) and the New York City Office of Collective Bargaining (OCB) decisions regardless of their claims with respect to ability to pay.

Limitation on Disciplinary Suspension of

Public Employees

Employees are suspended for long stretches of time prior to being afforded the ability to defend themselves in a disciplinary hearing. Long periods of suspension prior to a hearing act as a prejudged disciplinary sentence that places untenable financial burdens on the employee, while giving the employer no incentive to expedite a fair disciplinary process. The Public Employee Conference strongly advocates legislation to limit the amount of time an employee is suspended prior to a fair disciplinary hearing.

Ensure Adequate Supervisory Staffing for

Emergency Services

Enactment of legislation is urgently needed to ensure that all public employers provide adequate staffing levels of supervision for emergency services such as police, fire, EMS, and TBTA for the purpose of maintaining span of control during emergencies and the daily operations of emergency services.

Ensure Adequate Supervisory Staffing for Emergency Personnel

Enactment of legislation is urgently needed to ensure that all public employers provide adequate staffing levels of supervision for all emergency personnel acting in support of emergency services for the purpose of maintaining span of control during emergencies and the daily operations in support of emergency services.

ISSUES UNDER STUDY 

  • Defined benefit pension plans for private sector employees implemented and administered by comptroller
  • State Budget Implications
  • Legislation That Will Provide Criminal Sanctions Against Anyone Who Assaults Public Employees During the Performance Of Their Duties
  • Deferred Retirement Option Plans (DROP)
  • Health Care Reforms
  • Partial Lump Sum Option Plans (PLOP)
  • Any proposed changes to laws, policies or regulations that have potential to provide additional revenue streams to the state budget, i.e., gas drilling, casino gambling, mixed martial arts, etc., with any revenue generated and dedicated in the budget to specific programs such as education, healthcare, etc., should be scrutinized as to how it affects all public employees.
  • As publicly pronounced in the Governor’s “Reforming the Energy Vision Plan” of 2015, the state’s initiative to transition from coal-fired energy plants to alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, as well as the implementation of new technologies, will impact many unionized public sector employees. We stand committed to maintaining the high performance standards of public employees, and the requisite compensation and benefits they have bargained for, and oppose any transition to a low-wage, non-union workforce as part of the state’s plan.
  • Impact of emerging technology on current and future public employees.
  • Analysis of program(s) under consideration by the State Comptroller which will allow public employers to pre-fund healthcare obligations.
  • Analysis of impact on public employees as the result of the forthcoming decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case.