NEW YORK NURSE: December 2010
by Mark Genovese
The task was formidable – prevent the NYSNA Pension Plan from becoming a victim of the recession.
It seemed unavoidable that the plan’s benefits would have to be reduced because of the stock market collapse of 2007-08. But NYSNA was determined to fight. After months of relentless work by thousands of members and staff, trustees on Dec. 7 recertified the plan as financially sound – without any change in benefits.
“No single action saved the pension plan,” said NYSNA Special Projects Manager Nancy Kaleda, who directed the campaign. “Several things needed to happen – and at the right time.”
The first task was to educate members and seek their help. NYSNA formed a task force and committee to develop strategy, contact elected officials, and coordinate communication. Staff conducted regional meetings and discussed the issue at on-sites, and members wrote to legislators and hospital executives. The highlight of this grassroots campaign was a rally on Wall Street that drew 250 RNs while trustees voted on accepting a one-time opportunity to maintain the plan’s good or “green” rating. They did, and this allowed the market time to recover and NYSNA to seek legislative relief.
Meanwhile, representatives from NYSNA and its national union, the National Federation of Nurses (NFN), went to Washington, D.C. to win Congressional support for relief legislation. They delivered more than 3,000 postcards signed by nurses to New York’s delegation. Working with the National Coordinating Committee of Multiemployer Plans, they were the first to tell Congress about this issue. This resulted in the “Preservation of Access to Care for Medicare Beneficiaries and Pension Relief Act” being signed into law.
But this law alone wasn’t enough. The plan would still have to be certified as unhealthy or “red,” and trustees would be required to develop a “rehabilitation” plan. NYSNA ran radio advertisements during arbitration to pressure specific employer trustees. The ads said: “I love being a registered nurse and taking care of patients. But if our pension plan is gutted, I honestly don’t know if I can continue working as an RN.”
The final piece fell into place when the U.S. Internal Revenue Service issued guidelines for the new Pension Relief Act. The guidelines allowed the pension plan to lengthen the period in which it could amortize losses. This meant the plan could revoke its red certification. But this recertification still had to be accepted by the employer trustees. This is where each of the previous steps paid off.
“Because the trustees chose to certify the plan as green in 2009,” Kaleda said, “our investments were able to recover some of their lost value. This put us on a more solid footing than if we’d certified as red. We could also qualify for the relief provided by the new legislation and revised IRS standards. Our outreach campaigns made it clear to the employers that members wouldn’t accept changes to the plan. Through a good action plan and with persistence, we were able to put everything in place.”