NEW YORK NURSE: December 2009
by Mark Genovese
As this edition of New York Nurse went to press, federal legislation that would help protect defined-benefit pensions was making progress on Capitol Hill; a result of the combined efforts of NYSNA and its national union, the National Federation of Nurses (NFN).
The “Preserve Benefits and Jobs Act of 2009,” introduced Oct. 27 by U.S. Representatives Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), contains provisions to ensure the future benefits of nurses and other employees with defined-benefit pension plans.
Legislation is needed because stringent federal funding requirements and the economic decline worked together to threaten the solvency of pension plans across the nation. This includes the NYSNA Pension Plan and single-employer plans that cover many other NYSNA members and nurses across the nation.
The Pension Protection Act (PPA) of 2006 was intended to ensure that employee pensions are adequately funded. But if a pension plan is considered to be chronically underfunded, the PPA requires its trustees to develop at least one strategy for rehabilitation within a certain period of time — called a “default” plan — that reduces benefits. Many plans experienced a sudden, unprecedented downturn in the market value of their investments since the end of 2007. They are now at risk of being considered underfunded.
NFN President Barbara Crane was a featured speaker at a press conference introducing this groundbreaking legislation. She put a human face on the issue, speaking about the impact of the federal funding requirements on staff nurses and their patients.
“Nurses are asking themselves if they should retire now in order to protect their financial futures,” Crane said. “There are currently 2,800 nurses in New York who are pension-eligible. If something isn’t done to protect their pensions, these nurses could retire on Jan. 1.”
“This is the kind of issue that the NFN was designed to address – one that directly impacts the daily lives of RNs across the nation,” Crane said. The NFN recommends legislative reform that will allow losses to be amortized over 30 years, guarantee benefits, and extend the required rehabilitation period.
While the bill was being announced, other members of the NFN/NYSNA team delivered more than 3,000 postcards signed by nurses to members of New York’s Congressional delegation. “The Congressional representatives we spoke to were impressed by our show of unity and indicated they would support reform,” said John Hiltunen, chair of the NYSNA Pension Member Mobilization Committee. “Many said they weren’t aware of the issue until we brought it to their attention.”
The next day, the NFN/NYSNA team and its partners from the National Coordinating Committee of Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP) visited members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committees to pave the way for a similar bill in that house. NCCMP representatives also testified about this issue at an Oct. 29 hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.
“We need all of our members to inform their members of Congress that, unless changes are made, hardworking nurses will face reductions in the benefits they have been counting on for their retirement years,” Hiltunen said.
For more information, please visit NYSNA’s website at www.nysna.org. A position paper on the topic can be found online at www.nfn.org.