Open Letter to New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio

Playing Politics with New York’s Public Pension Funds Is a Risky Bet that Working Families Cannot Afford to Lose

May 5, 2018

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor of New York State
New York State Capitol Building
Executive Chamber
Albany, New York 12224

The Honorable Bill de Blasio

Mayor of New York City
City Hall
New York, New York 10007


Dear Governor Cuomo & Mayor de Blasio:

We are writing to you on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of our members, who are very concerned by your recent calls to divest the state and city’s pension funds from fossil fuels. As you know, 1.2 million state workers and 730,000 active and retired city workers rely on modest, yet steady pension returns to support themselves and their families following a long career of public service. With the Trump Administration’s new tax cuts, which are aimed at economically crippling states like New York, your divestment proposals are playing politics with our retirees’ savings at a time when they can least afford it.

Considering the fact that both of you have publicly championed the rights of New York’s public-sector workers and have vigorously opposed recent efforts, such as the Constitutional Convention, which would have destroyed our pensions and benefits, we are deeply alarmed by your fossil fuel divestment proposals, which cause a great deal of harm to working families, while achieving very little in the fight to combat climate change. Your proposals place a priority of politics over performance and they actually contradict the progressive values both of you hold dear. In fact, they are regressive.

Our members and their families care deeply about the health of the environment and the future of our planet. No reasonable person can argue that man-made climate change is not real. However, we must find productive ways to deal with it to ensure a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren, while not punishing working families at the same time.

Public pensions are a right earned by state and municipal workers and retirees who have devoted much of their lives to protecting and serving the public. They are protected under the New York State constitution and should not be used as policy experiments or part of some broad political agenda.

Unfortunately, that’s precisely what your proposals would do. The Common Retirement Fund of the New York State and Local Retirement System holds $192.4 billion in assets. It represents about 650,000 active state and local employees and 452,000 retirees.

A recent report by Global Analytics Services commissioned by the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees found that the fund would lose $188 million to $302 million over five years if forced to divest from fossil fuels — which earn at or above the mandated 8% annual return — and replace them with “green” investments that return 3 percent to 5 percent on average.

Bradley Heinrichs, an actuary who analyzed the report for Global, noted that divesting nearly $1 billion in fossil fuel investments in the state fund into lower-earning securities could force state and local governments to raise taxes or cut vital services to cover these costs. This should sound the alarm for working families across New York.

In New York City, taxpayers’ contributions to the pension funds have climbed steeply from $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2002 to $9.3 billion in fiscal year 2017 as politically motivated investment decisions and poor management have required more taxpayer funding to cover shortfalls. In fact, the city will soon be spending more on pension costs than social services with the exception of education. Divesting $5 billion in fossil fuel investments in the city’s pension fund over the next five years will only leave New York’s taxpayers with a greater financial burden and far less social services that New Yorkers rely upon daily.

New York State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli has wisely resisted politically motivated investment decisions over the years, which is why the Common Retirement Fund has yielded a 10.17% average five-year return and a 7.12% average 10-year return.  He has argued that shareholder engagement, rather than divestment is a much more effective way to influence the behavior of fossil fuel corporations. We agree. And we applaud him for focusing on his fiduciary responsibilities which is to maximize the highest possible returns for the fund’s pensioners and our retirees.

The largest public pension fund in the U.S., the $310 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has rejected a full-scale divestment of fossil fuels, as has the $184.8 billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). Both systems favor diversifying their investments to minimize losses and boost returns. We believe New York can learn from its equally progressive counterpart on the west coast.

Responsible pension fund managers understand that the purpose of pensions is to ensure a secure retirement for public workers. These funds were not created for pursuing political agendas or making symbolic statements — however honorable the cause may be. Working families in New Yorker deserve better and we are demanding that you demonstrate the same commitment to protecting our pensions as you have in the past.

Labor always has — and always will — fight for progressive change in this country, even when that means bucking the political tailwinds of the day. Just as public-sector unions launched an aggressive year-long campaign to defeat the proposed Constitutional Convention in November, we will marshal our collective resources in the coming months to educate our members about your risky divestment proposals and the economic threats they pose to all working families and taxpayers in New York.


Uniformed Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association IAFF Local 4959
Subway Surface Supervisors Association
Suffolk County AME
Nassau County Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association
Police Conference of New York

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June 5, 2018

Case is weak for divesting fossil fuels from NY pension fund (Commentary)

Dear Governor Cuomo:

It appears that environmental groups are putting pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and some elected leaders in Albany to divest fossil fuels from the New York state pension portfolio.

As chairman of the Utility Labor Council of New York, I have serious concerns about this proposal.

First, divesting fossil fuels from the pension fund is problematic. Most of the fossil fuel securities are part of larger funds that contain numerous securities. You cannot simply decide to divest from fossil fuels without it having a significant impact on the fund overall. The IBEW Utility Labor Council represents several hundred pension beneficiaries. It would be extremely harmful to them should this type of proposal move forward.

Second, the divestment issue is symbolic in nature. While divestment would have a significant disruptive impact on the pension fund, it would have a minimal overall impact to fossil fuel producers.

This governor has made his position clear that he does not support long term reliance on fossil fuels, shutting down a half-dozen fossil fuel plants in the Southern Tier and Western New York. In addition, this governor has also provided hundreds of millions of dollars to support clean renewable energy projects through NYSERDA and other state agencies.

Lastly, the governor does not and should not be involved in the investment decisions of the pension fund. Nor should the state comptroller be involved in policy decisions that are specifically reserved for the executive.

It can be very dangerous when one elected official has control of everything, hence the state comptroller has the statutory authority to be the sole trustee of the pension fund and not the governor.

Divestment of fossil fuels appears to be a symbolic proposal advanced at the behest of the environmental lobby. However, it could have real consequences to pension holders and pose challenges to the long-term sovereignty of the Office of the State Comptroller.

The Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees commissioned an extensive study, released in December 2017, to understand who would be most impacted by divestment. The report found that the pension fund, which represents more than 1 million active members and retirees, would lose $188 million to $302 million over five years if forced to divest from fossil fuels. And all New Yorkers would bear the burden of higher taxes and service cuts to make up those losses. That’s a price that working men and women simply can’t afford.

The 15,000 members of our union call on the governor to halt any proposal that would involve leveraging his influence to force the comptroller to divest fossil fuels from the pension fund.


Ted Skerpon
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

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