Union Leaders say Bloomberg 'Lying' about Pensions

Mayor Michael Bloomerg is being called a "liar" who is trying "steal" pension benefits by the leaders of the police and firemen's union, who rallied on the steps of City Hall Wednesday morning.

"He's unhappy with the deal that was struck 23 years ago. Too bad. That was the deal," said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighter's Association. "A deal was struck. It's a defined benefit. It goes on forever…if he doesn't like it, too bad. He cannot lie about it and pretend it's not a deal."

Bloomberg, for his part, told reporters earlier in the day "We certainly didn’t put out anything that is to the best of my knowledge not accurate and true." He added, "Nobody wants to get cut back, I understand that, we have to make a decision. Do we want to send out Christmas bonuses or have more teachers?"

At issue are $12,000 payments the city makes to about 30,000 retired police and firemen, that are known formally as a Variable Supplemental Fund. Bloomberg has said he'll probably have to lay off "thousands" of public school teachers unless the city can stop the payment.

Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said he and Cassidy's union needed to "battle back agains the attack, lies and false information that is being put out by the mayor's office to perpetrate stealing our benefits and our variable supplements."

The payments originated from a 1968 deal where these two unions gave the city a lump sum payment of several million dollars, along with concessions on their pay scale. In exchange, the city invested the money in the stock market, kept the benefits, and sent the union members a small check annually. In 1988, under Mayor Ed Koch, the deal was adjusted to make those payments a "defined benefit," locking in the $12,000 figure for the payments. 

Koch's secretary said he was traveling out of the country and unavailable to comment about the matter.

Cassidy and Lynch said the city reaped "billions" of dollars when the market rose, and through the pay scale concessions.

Bloomberg has said the city needs to cancel the payments, and, more generally, cut back on pension payments to future municipal workers, saying pension payments have grown from $1.5 billion to more than $7 billion during his tenure alone.

In testimony about the state budget in Albany, the mayor asked state legislators to let the city cancel the payments. During the testimony, a Republican legislator from upstate New York asked the mayor if the New York City Council needed to vote in favor of this change before the state could consider it — a move known as sending a "home rule" message.

Bloomberg said it was unlikely, but if so, he was confident the City Council members would approve it.

"I think the City Council is going to have to sit there and say, '10,000 teachers or a home rule message.' That seems to me something that'll carry pretty quickly, but I don't even think it's needed," Bloomberg said 

Later that day, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat with strong union ties and a close working relationship with the mayor, said it was likely the City Council would need to vote on it first. She declined to speculate on its chances of passing, saying they had not discussed it as a body yet.

The rally Wednesday morning was unusual for its tenor and tone. Cassidy and Lynch repeated referred to Bloomberg as dishonest, a "liar" and characterized his move as an effort to "steal" money from their members. While the mayor has sometimes been at odds with different unions, today's comments were among the harshest he's received in years.

"We did endorse the mayor in the past election," said Lynch of the policeman's union, "and we're calling him a liar today because he's saying lies in the public." 

"We never endorsed him and he is a liar," said Cassidy.