Chief Leader - January 31, 2012by MARK TOOR
Police and fire unions won an order in State Supreme Court requiring the city to pay part of the pension contributions for police officers and firefighters in the new Tier 3 pension program, as it does for those in Tier 2.
The Jan. 18 decision makes clear that the city can't change agreed-upon procedures "on a whim," said Roy Richter, president of the Captains Endowment Association, which filed the suit along with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
Cops and Doctors Tier 3, which went into effect July 1, 2009 after the Legislature refused to renew the extension of Tier 2, covers about 4,000 Police Officers hired after that date, as well as physicians hired since then who are members of the CEA and UFOA. There has been no Firefighter hiring since then because of an unrelated court case, but those appointed for that job in the future would also be covered.
The unions also have objected to other provisions of Tier 3 requiring new appointees to work for 22 years, rather than 20, to qualify for a full pension, and its less-generous disability- and death-benefit coverage.
Mr. Richter said that in the late 1960s the unions agreed to forgo wage increases in return for the city picking up part of the pension contribution. This was called the Increased Take-Home Pay program, and the city's contribution is now 3 percent.
The city Law Department decided that the ITHP was not transferable to Tier 3, but State Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead disagreed.
"This reinforces past negotiations where the employees agreed to waive pay hikes for pension contributions, Mr. Richter said.
"This is an important decision for all police officers and firefighters who were hired after July 2009 because it says that the city is required to abide by the Increased Take-Home Pay provisions, which allows them to keep more money in their pockets," PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said. "It is also important because it demonstrates that the city does not have the unilateral right to diminish rights or benefits of police officers."
An attorney with knowledge of the pension system said the 3-percent contributions by the city's would cover the entire payment for a Tier 3 employee. That throws into question whether Tier 3 would actually save the city any money, the attorney said, because the savings were figured on the basis of 3-percent contributions by the employees.
The city Law Department said it was studying the decision.