Pension isn’t a topic that typically pulls a young and energetic crowd, especially when it's the gloomy context of New York’s Tier 6.
But the Orange County Teachers Association managed a full house on Monday night, with their inaugural Tier 6 Mixer. The event brought more than 200 members to Newburgh Brewing Company as the sun set over the Hudson River’s golden October foliage.
Most of the evening was centered around food, drink, raffles and solidarity among members from more than one dozen Orange County locals that fall under the association masthead.
During brief remarks, Cornwall Central TA President John Hines drew boos and gasps from the crowd when he outlined the problems with Tier 6 in a few short PowerPoint slides.
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Multiple attendees began snapping photos with their phones when he showed that, if Tier 4 still existed, the lifetime contribution for a starting teacher at Cornwall this year would have been $25,269. For Tier 6 it’s $336,001, he said.
Still, NYSUT President Melinda Person said, it’s no time for despair. She promised that NYSUT’s Fix Tier 6 campaign would remain a union priority until Tiers 5 and 6 get parity, and that older members in the earlier Tiers would have their backs.
“I don’t want you to leave here without hope,” she told them. “What you need to know is that Tier 4 is going to fight for you. It is going to be a long fight. This is not going to be a quick fix… But we are going to get it done.”
Local elected officials, including state Assembly members from both parties, and state Sens. James Skoufis and Rob Rolison — pledged their support to teachers and dedication to pension reform.
Several attendees said they knew about the bad hand they — as Tier 6 recipients — had been dealt, but they admitted they’d have been less likely to come out on a chilly Monday evening if not for the festive draw of the location and the promise of casual camaraderie over wings, fries and sliders.
The event’s success might be a format for other regions as NYSUT members across the state build awareness about the harmful effects of Tier 6 and stoke enthusiasm about reform.
It certainly won’t be the last gathering in the region, said Washingtonville TA President Jeff Carola. He urged everyone to tell their peers and colleagues about Tier 6, give to VOTE-COPE to support NYSUT’s campaign, and remember the evening as “the night we brought Orange County together.”