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Public Sector Workers Rally in New York State Capital for Working Families

by Patricia Guadalupe  |  March 07, 2012

Nearly 2,000 New York public service workers gathered Tuesday in Albany for AFSCME’s annual lobby day, determined to stop Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to target pensions and retirement security.

“The governor is leading a race to the bottom that’s right out of the 1 percent playbook,” AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders said, firing up the crowd gathered at the state capital. “A playbook that values Wall Street more than Main Street. A playbook that’s long on rhetoric, short on facts.”

With that in mind, member activists from AFSCME fanned out across the Capitol urging lawmakers to close corporate tax loopholes and defeat the governor’s proposed 40 percent cut to new public service workers’ pensions. The plan, called Tier 6, also pushes new employees toward riskier 401(k) style retirement plans that offer no guarantee of returns at the time of retirement.

“Governor Cuomo’s proposal hurts New Yorkers,” said Carmen Flores, a clerical associate with the Department of Social Services in New York City, and a member of DC 37. “Rather than holding the big Wall Street banks accountable for past abuses, this plan rewards them by taking money out of the hands of hard-working New Yorkers.”

Council 35 member Mike Martin, a heavy equipment operator in Buffalo, said, “We came to Albany to remind our legislators that we provide vital services to the state of New York. We are committed to fighting for better services for all New Yorkers.”

Council 66 member Mike Dempsey, of the Broome County highway division in upstate New York, pointed out that the average pension of a New York state employee is only $19,000 a year. “To earn this benefit we dedicate our lives to making this state a better place for its citizens, as well as paying into the retirement system on time, every time,” Dempsey said.

New York City assistant teacher Li Jung Chen, a member of DC 1707 said, “The existing loopholes allow Wall Street to escape paying its fair share. To move this state forward, we need sacrifice from all New Yorkers, including the wealthiest. Let’s work together to make choices we all can be proud of.”

Dowell Harrell, communications specialist with the New York State Police and member of CSEA Local 1000, added, “Tier 6 forces hard-working New Yorkers to work longer and pay more for their benefits with less retirement security. We’re disappointed that the governor and legislature would proceed with this misguided policy.”

Workers heard from several high-ranking officials, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. DiNapoli has been a tireless advocate of retirement security for public workers and recently participated in a panel organized by the National Public Pension Coalition – of which AFSCME is a leading member. He calls Governor Cuomo’s proposal to create the new, riskier pension system “unacceptable.”

Also in attendance were William Travis, president of AFSCME Council 35, Raglan George Jr., executive director of AFSCME DC 1707, Lillian Roberts, executive director of DC 37, Danny Donohue, president of AFSCME CSEA Local 1000, Jimmy Lyman, executive director of AFSCME Council 82 and Anthony Gingello, president/executive director of AFSCME Council 66.

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