Streams

Pension Offices Swamped as Public Workers Lock in Benefits

Friday, March 30, 2012

City workers line up outside the Department of Education to sign up for tier IV pension. (Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

Little time remains for state and city workers to sign up for a more generous retirement plan. Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo approved a new class of pensions which goes into effect April 1.

The new pension tier raises the retirement age by one year, to 63, and participating workers will be required to contribute more from their own salary.

Public workers seeking to opt into the new retirement plan โ€” or get into the older pension plan โ€” have been flooding the offices of public pension systems.

A line of last-minute joiners snaked around the block outside of the Department of Education's building in Downtown Brooklyn on Friday morning.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, one of the city's five retirement systems, NYCERS, reported signing up about 2,500 workers during this one day alone. A spokeswoman estimated seven to eight thousand had signed up over the week, about four times what is typical for this time of year.

Several workers said they'd postponed signing up for a pension because they didn't want to see money taken out of their paychecks. Now, the matter has taken on a new urgency.

"It's gonna affect my future," said Gina Maria Tomasulo, an adjunct professor at Queens College. She clutched a folder of documentation to prove her eligibility for benefits that would be unattainable in just a few hours time. She wants to get into the older plan.

"The retirement age is supposed to be raised [under the new tier], and that would be a lot less money," Tomasulo said.

How much less depends on the worker's salary and length of employment, but District Council 37, the city's largest municipal union, says on average, the value of retirement benefits would decline 40 percent.

DC 37 said the governor and legislature "betrayed" public workers by enacting the changes.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has long argued for a new pension tier, says less generous benefits will save the city $21 billion over the next three decades.

Cuomo pitched the new pension tier, arguing that the alternative was unaffordable.

"Without this critical reform, New Yorkers would have seen significant tax increases, as well as layoffs to teachers, firefighters and police," Cuomo said, in a statement.

Under the new pension plan, all new hires by the state and city will only be eligible for the new pension tier.

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