NEW YORK NURSE: March 2011
by Mark Genovese
The next phase of the battle to save your NYSNA Pension Plan benefits might take place at your negotiating table.
NYSNA’s campaign to secure the pension plan received a tremendous boost in December 2010, when the plan was recertified as financially sound and the trustees agreed to maintain its current benefit structure. But the fight’s not over yet.
Some employers are demanding in contract negotiations that local bargaining units agree to a new, “alternative” pension plan. This alternative plan was created last fall during negotiations to save the pension plan. In an effort to encourage the trustees who represent the employers to vote in favor of maintaining the current plan’s benefit structure, NYSNA trustees agreed that an alternative offering a lesser benefit, and therefore saving money for the employers, could be developed. Despite this, NYSNA has never wavered from its objective to maintain the benefits of the current plan.
“Both sides agreed that this plan would be entirely optional,” said NYSNA Special Projects Manager Nancy Kaleda, who is directing the pension-protection campaign. “But some employers have already opened negotiations by demanding that the bargaining units switch to it.”
NYSNA’s main objection is that the alternative plan would provide a reduced benefit and has no provision to offer an unreduced early retirement benefit for RNs aged 60 with 20 years’ service. It would also change the future calculation formula from 1.6 percent to 1.35 percent.
These changes could result in the devastating loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars for both newer pension plan members and the most senior. Switching from the current to the alternative pension plan would cost an RN who is currently 22 years old with no credit under the current pension plan a staggering $20,000 per year for life if the RN retires early at age 60, and more than $10,000 per year if the RN retires at age 65. This could add up to $500,000 over the nurse’s retirement years. Meanwhile, RNs who are close to meeting the 60/20 retirement standard would lose the ability to retire early without a penalty.
“NYSNA’s goal has always been to maintain the benefits under the current plan,” Kaleda said. “We achieved this during negotiations last fall with employer trustees and we are determined to see to it that the alternative is not accepted by any bargaining unit.”
More than 13,000 NYSNA members at 33 private sector facilities in the metropolitan New York City area are covered by the plan. More than 2,500 retired participants, or their beneficiaries, receive a monthly benefit from it. The plan is governed by a board of 14 trustees including equal representatives from NYSNA – staff and represented members – and from management of participating facilities.
NYSNA has taken the lead with member education and involvement in this pension crisis. Educational packets were mailed to every bargaining unit chair and presentations have been made at facilities when committees requested them. It’s held special interregional meetings for all LBU committees throughout 2009 and 2010 to educate, update, and get member input; and made special presentations to the Congress of Bargaining Unit Leaders and Delegate Assembly.
The pension member mobilization team met throughout 2009 and 2010 to determine the grassroots legislative activities aimed at obtaining pension reform at the national level. Members participated in letter-writing and post-card campaigns.
NYSNA has been educating members about the differences between the plans at facilities where the alternative has already been brought to the table. It’s also reconvening its Pension Rescue task force.
“NYSNA believes early retirement at age 60 after 20 years should be available for all pension plan members,” Kaleda added. “We’ve all worked too hard, for too long for this benefit, and we will not accept a reduction.”