Amidst the rancour of the debate over extra days, Circular 6 and letters in files a possible huge improvement in the pension system is being ignored.. The possibility of returning to a 25/55-pension system, the ability to retire at age 55 after twenty-five years of service, would be a boon to our newer members.

Many members enter teaching after working in other jobs, not fresh from college. Under the current Tier 4 pension system a member must be 55 years of age and have thirty years of service to retire without penalty.

In the proposed Agreement the Mayor agrees to support legislation to create a 25/55-pension system. How is it possible that we could make significant pension improvements under a Mayor who seems in such conflict with the union?

A history lesson: prior to 1970 teachers had to work to age sixty-five in order to retire and had to have accumulated their own savings in order to survive in retirement. Ironically, it was after two bitter strikes, in 1967 and 1968, that we were able to negotiate Tier 1 of the pension system – a 25/55 system. In spite of the bitterness between John Lindsay, the union and teachers, for politicians, elections come first. Lindsay agreed to a dramatic change in the pension system in the face of a potentially difficult fight for re-election.

The NYS Constitution guarantees that pension benefits for public employees may not be reduced. The legislature can create new Tiers of the pension system for future employees. Pension improvements, however, require the cooperation of the Mayor and the support of the State legislature and the Governor. Members who rail against our support of Republicans as well as Democrats are shortsighted. One party does not pass legislation. If we can take advantage of a political climate to create significant pension improvements we should seize the moment.

When the Tier 1 legislation became law I was a new teacher: who ever thought of retirement? The Mets had won the World Series and the Jets the Super Bowl – ah those halcyon days … After the signing ceremony Dave Wittes, one of the prime creators of Tier 1 and a founder of the union whispered to my wife, “you have no idea what we have just created…” And, tens of thousands of our members have been able to retire and live wonderful lives because Al Shanker and John Lindsay, bitter enemies, made a political “deal.”

Windows to make significant retirement changes are rare. For our younger members the possibility to return to a 25/55-pension system is a huge gain that, if lost, may not resurface again for decades. Extra days, Circular 6 and letters in files have always been adjusted in contracts, improvements in the pension system are extremely difficult to achieve and to a generation of members will improve their lives.