Testimony before the Joint Legislative Public Hearings on 2012-2013 Executive Budget Proposal – Workforce Issues, DATE
On behalf of the New York State Nurses Association, we appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony at this hearing. The Nurses Association is the oldest and largest professional organization for registered nurses in New York State. It represents the interests of more than 270,000 registered nurses and serves as the collective bargaining agent for more than 36,000 RNs at 150 healthcare facilities.
While NYSNA appreciates the challenges facing New York’s current pension system, a Tier VI pension would penalize nurses and other public employees for the bad decisions made by Wall Street, and would discourage future nurses from choosing a career in the public sector. The Governor has also proposed creating a defined benefit plan option that would place employee retirement security in the hands of an unscrupulous financial services industry and a volatile stock market.
New York State Comptroller Tom Dinapoli recently addressed the National Public Pension Coalition and defended the state’s current pension system stating that “the solution to dismantle current defined benefit plans long term is not a solution and it could create more challenge and costs down the road,” (Times Union, 1/20/2012).
Dinapoli said that “individual savings plans actually cost 46% more than defined benefit plans. New York State’s returns on the defined benefit plans are sufficiently higher than the rate of return from individual savings accounts.” He also discussed in particular that 77% of New York retirees continue to live in New York State, and that the benefit paid out to these retirees continues to be spent here in the state which is roughly $6.5 billion in spending, $9.5 billion in economic activity, and $1.3 billion in property taxes paid. Even in the most difficult economic times, “state and local government officials have not skipped payments and have made thin contributions towards pensions on time.”
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research agrees with the Comptroller’s statements and argues that “it is misleading to blame state budget problems on these pensions, most of which were adequately funded before the financial crisis” (Times Union, 1/20/2012). Defined contribution plans were not intended to take the place of pension plans, but rather to be used as supplemental income. By suggesting a pension that decreases benefits for future retirees or places their retirement in the hand of reckless investors on Wall Street, the Governor is using the same strategy as most of the private sector employers in New York State that has destroyed the idea of retirement security for the middle class and working poor.
The Governor’s plan also fails to take into account the unique circumstances faced by some of the impacted professions and job titles. The average age of a nurse in this country is 46 years old and more than 50 percent of New York State’s nursing workforce is close to retirement. Under the proposed Tier VI pension however, nurses would have to work until the age of 65 before retiring from the physically taxing profession of nursing.
Over the course of an eight hour shift, a nurse lifts the equivalent weight of 1 ton. Studies have shown that, because of the nature of their work, nurses suffer a higher incidence of neck, back and knee injuries than construction workers. Additionally, nurses often work long hours under stressful conditions, which can result in injury and job dissatisfaction. Nurses suffering in these environments are more prone to making mistakes and medical errors, which can negatively affect patient care. Nurses are burning out way before the current retirement age and are not likely to continue working full time until the age of 65.
Compared to other occupations, nursing personnel are among the highest at risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks RNs sixth of those at greatest risk for strains and sprains. Patient handling tasks, including such movements as lifting, transferring and repositioning, often accomplished in awkward positions such as bending or reaching over beds or chairs with backs flexed, are the primary cause of MSDs among nurses. Ergonomic injuries to nurses are a recognized and documented Occupational Health Hazard. More than half of nurses report chronic back pain. The incidence of back pain is higher in the nursing profession than in construction workers, miners and agricultural workers, with 38 percent of nurses sustaining significant back injuries that require leave from work.
RNs are also at high risk for exposure to workplace hazards. Nurses who work in hospitals, long term care facilities and clinics, frequently call for individuals with infectious diseases. They are exposed on a daily basis to tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, rubella, pneumonia and hepatitis. Nurses must also guard against exposure to radiation, accidental needle sticks, chemicals used to sterilize instruments and anesthetics. In addition, they are vulnerable to shocks from electrical equipment and hazards posed by compressed gases.
The benefits provided to public sector nurses under the new pension tier would also be less competitive that what is offered in the private sector. Nurses in the new pension tier would not only have a higher retirement age than their private sector counterparts, they would also contribute significantly more to their retirements. This would make it much more difficult for public sector employers to recruit and retain nurses affecting the staffing of those facilities and the quality of care they are able to provide their patients.
Nursing is a demanding and physically taxing profession that often results in debilitating injury from years of service. The state cannot afford to exacerbate the nursing shortage for public sector employers by offering an inferior retirement package to those who care for the state’s most vulnerable citizens. For the reasons stated, the New York State Nurses Association strongly urges the Senate and Assembly to reject the Governor’s proposal for a new tier VI to be added to the New York State Retirement System.
For more information, contact Governmental Affairs at 518.782.9400, ext. 283 or by e-mail.