NEW YORK NURSE: April 2009
by Randi Hoffman
On the sunny winter morning of March 25, 250 RNs wearing red NYSNA hats broke out in a cheer and blew whistles when they heard that the trustees of the NYSNA Pension Plan had voted to go green.
The nurses rallied with banners, speakers, and great energy in front of 120 Wall Street, New York City, while the trustees met in the NYSNA conference room on the 23rd floor.
“We worked tirelessly and with great vigor, and now we have succeeded and gone green,” said Connie Klipp, an RN at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. “It means a lot to us. It means a lot to me, because I’m eligible for retirement in September. Now I will not have to leave the job that I love, that I have worked at for 27 years.”
Voting the pension green means that the trustees chose to take the one-year extension granted by the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act passed by Congress last December.
This buys them more time to review options while the economy recovers. The trustees representing the union have one vote as a group and the trustees representing employers also have one vote as a group. This requires both parties to agree for a measure to pass.
More than 13,000 NYSNA members working in New York City private hospitals participate in the pension plan. They had conducted a three-month campaign, including petitions, letters to employers and legislators, and e-mail and fax blitzes. The union pension plan trustees were so concerned about the outcome of the vote that they had already filed for arbitration.
More than 100 nurses protested during the previous trustee meeting on March 5. When the employer trustees found out there would be another rally on March 25, they requested a change of venue. In the end, they walked through the rally anyway.
The NYSNA Pension Plan is a multi-employer, defined benefit plan. It began 2008 in healthy condition, funded at more than 100%. But it ended the year at less than 75%, due to the unprecedented crash in the value of its investments, like so many other pension plans and 401(k)s. If the pension plan trustees had not voted to go green, they would have had to craft a default plan by November that could have gutted NYSNA members’ hard-earned retirement benefits.
In other business at the same meeting, the pension plan trustees voted to join the National Coordinating Committee for Multi-Employer Plans (NCCMP), a national group lobbying for pension reform. This is the same group that advocated for the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act.
“I can plan differently now,” said Mercedes Herman, also an RN at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. “Even though I reached the age of retirement, I had always planned on working as long as I wanted to. Now I have a choice.” Herman had said she would have retired if the pension had not stayed green. Many other nurses of retirement age said they would have left their positions to ensure receiving their full pension.
“A mass retirement would have had a devastating impact on patient care at facilities that already are dealing with a nursing shortage,” said NYSNA Chief Executive Officer Tina Gerardi.
NYSNA Nursing Representative Crystal Shipp was the emcee at the March 25 event. Other speakers included New York City Councilman Miguel Martinez from the Bronx; Edward Boles, treasurer of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association; and Ed Ott, executive director of the NYC Central Labor Council. Staffer Erica Campbell spoke for State Assemblymember Naomi Rivera of the Bronx. Nancy Kaleda, NYSNA special projects manager, riled up the crowd; and John Hiltunen from St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in Manhattan, who is vice president of the NYSNA Congress of Bargaining Unit Leaders and a member of the NYSNA Board of Directors, also spoke.