Budget leaves city worker benefits vulnerable
As the Bloomberg administration grapples with a $4 billion budget shortfall over the next two years, city employees may soon be asked to foot a chunk of the bill.
The city could shave at least $2 billion annually from its spending by requiring municipal workers to contribute to their health insurance costs and work regular 40-hour weeks - norms in the private sector.
We are discussing with the municipal unions ways to save money during the financial crisis, but we will discuss any proposals across the table, not through the media, said Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The business-backed Citizens Budget Commission and the Manhattan Institute, a public-policy think tank, have long pushed for employee contributions to all health insurance and 40-hour workweeks, and the time might be ripe for the city to rekindle the debate.When asked about the possibility, City Council Finance Chairman David Weprin (D-Hollis) said, Everything should be on the table, although he admitted cuts to benefits would not likely be discussed before July.
Currently, 90 percent of the citys 350,000 workers opt for health care plans that dont require them to pay a share of their premiums. With the exception of uniformed workers and teachers, most city employees work 35 or 37Â½ hours a week.
Charles Brecher, research director for the Citizens Budget Commission, estimates the city would save about $1 billion a year by requiring employees to pay 10 percent toward individual health insurance plans and 20 percent for family coverage. Another $500 million could be saved by requiring retirees to pay half their costs.
Taxpayers will spend $6.7 billion this year on city employees benefits, the vast majority going to health care.
Theres nothing wrong with asking them to pay, even if its a small amount, said Nicole Gelinas, a fellow with the Manhattan Institute.
While free health care for employees in other cities is not unheard of, the perk is increasingly coming under fire, most notably in Philadelphia. Gelinas added that New Yorks benefits package is generous compared to other municipalities.
Mandated 40-hour workweeks would yield about $500 million in relief to the city by eliminating the need for 7,000 jobs over the next three years, analysts say. In response to the wide budget gap, Bloomberg has already announced plans to cut 3,000 jobs, issuing 500 pink slips.
The pension system for new employees may also be retooled. But with many variables at play, the potential savings are difficult to project, Brecher said.
Harry Nespoli, chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group for municipal unions, said it would be unfair to target city workers, arguing that the attractive benefits package is a big reason employees pass on accepting higher-paying jobs in the private sector.
You take that away, fuggedaboutit, nobody would take a city job, he said.
This is caused by Wall Street and by financial companies, but yet the Main Street people like the city workers are the victims of this whole thing.