Former St. Clare’s worker Mary Hartshorne is remaining optimistic the recently approved stimulus package could be amended to aid former workers of St. Clare’s Hospital who found out in 2018 they’d be left with little to no pension.
“I’m an eternal optimist, so I think it could happen,” Hartshorne said. “We’re asking the politicians to look at it in a different light.”
Hartshorne, who is also the chairperson of St. Clare’s Recovery Alliance, has been advocating to restore workers pensions for over a decade. She was delighted to see a push from state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, this week to get U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, to amend the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan so those who worked at St. Clare’s could qualify for a portion of the $86 billion set aside to bail out failing pensions.
“I find it a serious omission to not include a miniscule fraction of that stimulus relief to help our dedicated former St. Clare’s Hospital workers who have had the rug pulled out from under them,” Tedisco said in a news release Tuesday. “Even before the pandemic started, these 1,100 New Yorkers, who cared for some of the most vulnerable, have been coping with economic uncertainty and desperation with no end in sight as their pensions evaporated in the snap of a finger through no fault of their own. I’m urging our federal representatives to do the right thing and fix this injustice by helping our shared constituents, the St. Clare’s pensioners, just as they’ve helped the Teamsters.”
St. Clare’s workers were notified in mid-October 2018 that their pension checks would get smaller or stop altogether in early 2019.
Hartshorne said they didn’t qualify for any of the $86 billion under the stimulus package because they weren’t unionized. She said many of the St. Clare’s workers are senior citizens who are having to live without a pension during the COVID pandemic.
“Senator Schumer has long believed that no worker or retiree who has planned for and relies on anticipated benefits should carry the burden of a pension plan failing and he looks forward to working with St. Clare’s/Ellis to identify solutions for their workers and retirees,” said Allison Biasotti, Schumer’s press secretary.
Gillibrand’s office said they are looking into the issue, but noted the money designated in the American Rescue Plan was for multi-employer pension plans and that pensions from St. Clare’s was a separate issue.
“Pensions are critical for workers’ livelihoods,” Gillibrand said. “They are not gifts, they are earned wages deferred and it’s troublesome that hundreds of workers are still waiting on the money they’ve worked hard for. My office has reached out to the pensioners advocacy group and is currently looking into how we can help these constituents.”
St. Clare’s opted out of the federal insurance program, which would have ensured some benefits for retirees regardless of what was happening with the pension plan.
Tonko did not offer an official comment. Tonko’s Communication Director Matt Sonneborn said in an email that the pension issue may fall to the state to handle. New York could apply some of its $22 billion from federal stimulus money to state and local government to solve the pension problem, he noted.
Hartshorne has been fighting the issue on many fronts. The alliance has seven lawyers currently in the middle of a lawsuit against the St. Clare’s Corporation, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and various officers of both organizations.
“That’s ongoing,” she said. “It’s moving forward.”
She said the lawyers were ready to advance the case a year ago but then courts shut down because of the pandemic.
Attorney General Letitia James is also investigating what happened with the pension plan after Tedisco sent a document to James that stated the hospital’s benefit plan had been underfunded $47 million as of December 2006. Hartshorne said she’s scheduled to have a deposition with the Attorney General later this month.