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UJA’s ‘Cash Balance’ Bid Puts Retirements At Risk

February 12, 2019

By Steve Wishnia

NEW YORK, N.Y.—A contract dispute over pensions between the UJA-Federation and AFSCME District Council 1707 escalated Feb. 8, when the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

DC1707 members flex their collective strength in Battery Park last year.

The complaint alleges that the federation, the umbrella fund-raising group for Jewish charities and social-service agencies, increased salaries for a number of workers without negotiating with the union. Those raises also mean they’ll make enough to work overtime without being paid extra, DC 1707 general counsel Thomas Murray told LaborPress. Under current state law, salaried employees in New York City who make more than $1,125 a week are exempt from overtime-pay laws.

“Our members at UJA have frankly been stunned by the hard-line and aggressive stance UJA has taken in these negotiations because they never experienced it in prior negotiations,” DC 1707 staff representative Nicole Coleman said in a statement released by the union.  

UJA did not respond to email and phone messages from LaborPress. The federation told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service earlier this month that both parties had agreed to extend their contract for another month, and that it hoped to “reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.”

DC 1707’s contract for the 183 union workers at the UJA expired Jan. 31. Talks already broke down once over the UJA’s demand that 38 older workers be switched from a defined-benefit pension plan to a hybrid “cash balance” plan that would reduce their retirement benefits.

The union agreed to a two-tier contract in 2010 that put future hires in a cash-balance plan. “We didn’t like the agreement, but at least it protected the current workers,” says Murray.

Cash-balance retirement plans are a hybrid of defined-benefit and 401(k) plans. Unlike defined-benefit plans, they set up individual accounts, based on employer contributions. Unlike a 401(k), they can provide monthly annuity payments. 

They cost employers more than 401(k) plans, but less than defined-benefit plans, as the benefits tend to be lower—particularly for older and longtime workers, as defined-benefit plans’ payments are typically based on the employee’s highest-earning years.

“The losses are going to be considerable,” says Murray. While there’s no risk of UJA workers losing the benefits they’ve already earned if they’re switched to a cash-balance plan, they would accrue significantly less than what they will under the current defined-benefit plan. A 45-year-old worker who makes $40,000 a year and has 15 years on the job would retire with a pension of $35,200 under the current plan, but only $15,900 under a cash-balance plan, he says.

Those cuts will be less for older workers, he adds, more in the range of $7,000 to $13,000, but those employees have less time to adjust to them than younger ones. “If you’re 55 or 60 years of age, you can’t work long enough to replace that lost income,” he says. 

These contract talks are crucial, Murray says, because other Jewish nonprofit organizations where DC 1707 represents workers — including the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, the JASA elderly-services agency, the Jewish Child Care Association, and the Educational Alliance — will follow whatever agreement is reached.

“Our members at UJA are the unsung heroes of New York City philanthropy,” DC 1707 executive director Kim Medina said in a statement Jan. 31. “District Council 1707 will fight to insure that our members at UJA will be able to retire with dignity and financial security and to make sure that UJA recognizes that all of our members at UJA deserve respect and fair compensation.”

The next contract talks are scheduled for Feb. 22, says Murray.

February 12, 2019

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