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NYPD, FDNY unions may prevail in disability fight with de Blasio

Members of the FDNY sit in the audience

Members of the FDNY sit in the audience during a City Council hearing on a bill that would restore disability pension cuts, eliminating the two-tiered system for firefighters and police, on Friday, May 29, 2015. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

The New York City Council gave a sympathetic hearing Friday to a proposal pushed by the police and firefighter unions to restore disability pension cuts imposed six years ago -- a move opposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio as fiscally imprudent.

The unions want the city to restore previous levels of disability pensions for cops and firefighters who can't work because of on-the-job injuries. Those hired before state law changed in 2009 get three-quarters pay without offsets against the total for Social Security disability benefits. More recent hires receive half pay, with reductions based on such Social Security payments.

"It's not dollars and cents. It's right and wrong," said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

The mayor has proposed a compromise that calculates the pension from a higher wage scale for the newest hires and eliminates the Social Security offset -- going part of the way toward restoring past benefit levels. Steve Cassidy, head of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, called that plan "a disgrace."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo backs the unions on the issue, which is to be ultimately decided by state legislation, signaling yet another potential defeat for de Blasio in Albany.

Restoring the three-quarters disability pensions would cost the city an estimated $342 million between 2015 and 2019, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer's office, citing actuarial tabulations. The mayor's compromise would cost between $12 million and $48 million, the office said.

About 40 of the 51 City Council members support a formal request to Albany to eliminate the two-tiered disability pension, said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens). The old system was in place for seven decades until it changed during former Gov. David A. Paterson's administration.

Before the council hearing, hundreds of firefighters and cops represented by the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the PBA rallied at the City Hall steps.

Among them was Officer James Li, who was shot in both legs while confronting a fleeing farebeater in February 2014, and Officer Rosa Rodriguez, who suffered debilitating injuries when she and a partner who later died, Dennis Guerra, were overcome by smoke at a Coney Island fire two months later.

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