Aug 22, 2006

The Chief Reports: Can't Keep Both Salaries: Say City Reservists Repaying Too Much

Can't Keep Both Salaries

Say City Reservists Repaying Too Much


The state should create a uniform differential pay program to accommodate city workers returning from military duty who are now required to pay back as much as $100,000 of their supplemental earnings, a Democratic candidate for State Assembly said last week

"These are people who are literally defending the city against future terrorist attacks," said Rory Lancman, who's running to succeed Queens Assemblyman
Brian M. McLaughlin, who is not seeking a new term. "We are not asking for them to get free money. All we are asking for is that the city calculate the money fairly, so that these guys are not paying more
than they received."

Council Supporters

The proposal has also been championed by City Council Members Michael E. McMahon and Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. as well as the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

The Bloomberg administration, however, has traditionally opposed legislation that would add to the city's already burgeoning pension and labor costs.

"It's a very small sum in the scheme of things to protect this city," Mr. Lancman countered. "We are not talking about more than a couple of thousand city workers. It's not going to be more than a few million dollars."

State statute requires every locality to continue to pay up to 30 days a year to workers who perform ordinary National Guard and Reserve military service. After
Sept. 11, 2001, that period was extended to 60 days for employees called up in connection with the terrorist attacks.

The state Department of Civil Service provides differential pay for state workers called to duty, who must choose between receiving their military or state salaries. The state determines the employee's total military pay, which includes a housing and food allowance, and then adjusts and supplements the worker's periodic paycheck so that the combined pay equals their normal civilian salary.

Staff Must Repay

City workers, however, are required to repay the lesser of the two salaries upon returning from military service. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services has also asked that the workers repay military housing, food, and hazardous duty allowances."The way the city is calculating how much these guys owe is based on gross pay as opposed to net pay," Mr. Lancman added. "The city is actually asking them to pay back more than they receive. That's ridiculous."

Kristen Zach, Councilman McMahon's Deputy Chief of Staff, said that her Police Officer husband returned from a year of military service in 2002 but only recently received a letter from DCAS asking for the money to be returned.

"It was a huge surprise," she remarked, noting that they owe $37,000 according to the city's calculations. "Now we have to figure out what to do. A lot of people were lulled into a false sense of hope."

Saved But Then Spent
Most officers initially saved the extra wages but then spent the money, she said. "Because there was no word for four years, people didn't really expect they were going to have to pay back," she commented. "Other cities such as Philly and Los Angeles have cancelled the debt." Most of the officers, she continued, aren't expecting the Bloomberg administration to erase the debt. "Nobody is saying we shouldn't have to pay anything back," she added. "It's just not reasonable the way the city is calculating payments."

Council Member McMahon has drafted a resolution urging the Bloomberg administration to change the way the city has estimated what employees owe. "It's a way to encourage the Mayor to do the right thing," Ms. Zach said. A mayoral spokesman declined to comment on the proposal, noting that it has not yet been drafted.

According to an internal DCAS memo, there have been 1,624 city workers called to active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The departments most affected and the numbers of reservists in each are: Police Department, 988; Fire Department, 172; Correction Department, 149; Sanitation Department, 65; and Human Resources Administration, 34.

Faster to Notify

Agencies have established their repayment plans differently, the document noted. For instance, the Sanitation Department has been notifying employees of their obligation to pay back the money shortly after the workers return from service.

The NYPD, however, has only recently begun sending letters to members telling them about the amounts that they owe, the memo acknowledged. "The first letters went to approximately 100 individuals who returned from military duty from 2001 through September 2002," the DCAS document noted. "The NYPD expects to issue letters at a later point to those individuals who returned from leave in more recent years."

Because of the delay, many of the officers have already retired, Mr. Lancman pointed out. Those officers have been ordered to pay the money in full within 30 days. In contrast, current employees are required to give no more than 10 percent of their biweekly civilian salary towards repayment. "When they came back, the city was going to let it slide," the Assembly candidate asserted. "You can't retire, because the day you retire you are going to owe the whole thing."
Not a Crowd-Pleaser

The DCAS memo also noted the negative media attention the issue had been attracting since the notification letters were mailed. DCAS Director of Communications Mark Daly advised city officials that the matter "appeared in at least two news reports and was the subject of a call to the Mayor's radio show."

Mr. Addabbo, who chairs the Civil Service and Labor Committee, said that he will hold a hearing on the matter in early fall. "The issue has to be paid attention to," he remarked in an Aug. 15 phone interview. "So many of our city workers are being hit with a severe financial burden." Mr. Lancman's broader proposal is in its nascent stages. He is pitted against Morshed Alam, who is running as a Democrat and a Republican, in the Sept. 12 primary election. Mr. Alam is also a member of District Council 37's Civil Service Technical Guild Local 375.

But Mr. Lancman is quick to point out that Mr. Alam's own local has refused to endorse him, despite his gaining the backing of DC 37. Mr. Lancman, who political pundits view as the favorite, has been endorsed by many elected officials and has broad labor support, including
that of the United Federation of Teachers and the DC 37 Retirees' Association.

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