NEW YORK Feb 9 New York City's firefighters
and police officers rallied on Wednesday to stop Mayor Michael
Bloomberg from "stealing" a $12,000 a year payment for their
The yearly payment -- which is paid on top of regular
pension benefits -- has become the flashpoint in a series of
pension cuts Bloomberg unveiled last week. For details, see:
The $12,000 payment -- which Bloomberg, a former Wall
Street trader, calls a bonus -- has a complex history.
It dates back to 1988, when the amount was fixed from the
fluctuating payment that was due under a late 1960s accord,
city officials said. Five decades ago, the unions resisted the
city's plans to invest some of the pension funds in equities
instead of solely in bonds, and the annual payment was the
sweetener that persuaded them to go along.
The unions and the mayor have clashed about almost
everything: the payment's history, including whether it ever
allowed the city to earn a windfall from the stock market, and
whether a union benefit once granted can ever be taken away.
New York City, like many states and cities around the
nation, is struggling under costly pensions granted unionized
public workers. Many governors and mayors can only start
curbing pensions for people yet to be hired because the current
benefits are protected by statutes, union contracts or state
The yearly payment is one of the very few pension benefits
that is not protected by the state's constitution.
The state legislature might have to enact a law to cancel
the annual payment, city officials said. But it is not clear
whether the Democratic-led Council would have to approve.
The mayor has estimated that if subway fares had risen at
the same clip as the city's pensions, it would cost $7.05 to
ride the subway -- instead of the current $2.25.
The unions, which fault the mayor for calling their annual
payment a bonus, took to the steps of City Hall to protest.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent
Association, said in a statement: "A lie is a lie no matter how
many times you say it."
Bloomberg told reporters: "We certainly didn't put out
anything that is -- to the best of my knowledge -- isn't
accurate and true." He added: "The question is how are we going
to provide the services people want without raising taxes?"
(Reporting by Joan Gralla and Edith Honan; Editing by Dan