• Advertisement

Congress Must Act Immediately to Meet Obligations of Failing Coal Country Pensions and Health Benefits

 Time is Running Out for Retired Miners and Families

UMWA President Cecil Roberts Tells Senate Finance Committee that Bipartisan Legislation is “Least Expensive” Option for U.S. Government 

UMWA United Mine Workers LogoWASHINGTON – Testifying today before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts said Congress must act immediately to meet the nation’s obligations to retired miners and their families. 

America’s mine workers, Roberts said, “spent decades putting their lives and health on the line every single day, going into coal mines across this nation to provide the energy and raw materials needed to make America the most powerful nation on earth.”

Through no fault of their own, Roberts told the senators, retired miners and their surviving spouses now face an imminent loss of modest pension benefits – averaging $530 per month – as well as health care benefits that are literally a matter of life and death for many miners who confront work-related illnesses and injuries. 

Roberts appeared before the Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), to urge immediate passage of S. 1714, the Miners Protection Act. The bipartisan legislation, backed by members of both parties, will ensure that America meets its often-stated obligations to America’s coal miners, who risked their lives and well-being for decades to meet our nation’s energy needs.

“UMWA retirees have a much higher level of cardio-pulmonary diseases than the general population,” said Roberts. “They have more musculo-skeletal injuries. They have higher rates of cancers. Many of them have black lung to at least some degree, and thousands have severe cases.”

Because pension funds for retired miners are backed by the taxpayer-guaranteed Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PGBC), said Roberts, any delay in Congressional action now will cause even larger problems later.  The miners’ pension fund is one of the largest in the country.  If it is unable to pay its bills and the PBGC if forced to step in, the PBGC itself could go bankrupt, putting tens of millions of other pensioners all across the country at risk.

Immediate passage of S. 1714, Roberts told the senators, “is less expensive to the government than any other outcome.” 

“Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle have worked to secure passage of this vital legislation because they know the disaster that awaits us in the coalfields if we fail to act,” said Roberts. “I’m here today to remind you that we are running out of time.”

Workers In Right To Work States Are Less Likely To Have Access To Retirement Plans

Pew Analysis Shows Access to Workplace Retirement Plans
Varies Widely Across States

Big differences among industries, incomes, ages, education, race and ethnicities

Wide differences in access to and participation in employer-based retirement plans exist across states, with variations by employer size and industry type as well as by workers’ income, age, education, race and ethnicity, according to a report released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report, Who’s In, Who’s Out: A Look at Access to Employer-Based Retirement Plans and Participation in the States, examines the rates of access to and participation in plans in all 50 states and assesses the challenges facing workers and employers in ensuring that Americans have sufficient resources to pay for their retirements.

Access and participation is higher in the Midwest, New England, and parts of the Pacific Northwest—and lower in the South and West. The report also finds that among Hispanic workers, access to a plan is around 25 percentage points below that for white non-Hispanic workers. Black and Asian workers also report lower rates of access than white workers.     

“Access to workplace retirement plans varies widely across the states,” said John Scott, director of Pew’s retirement savings project. “Recognizing the savings challenge faced by so many Americans, half of the states are looking at their own solutions.” 

There is a correlation between traditionally strong union states and access to retirement plans.  Workers in Right To Work (for less) states generally have much less access to retirement plans or pensions.

Below is an chart from the report that shows the percentage of workers who has access to some type of retirement plan.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.45.19 AMBelow is the current map of Pro-Labor / Right To Work states.  Notice that the overwhelming majority of Right To Work states have drastically less access to retirement plans. (Note: Wisconsin became a RTW state in March of 2015, Michigan in March of 2013, and Indiana in February of 2012.)

righttowork_uschart2015

Overall, Pew’s analysis, based on a pooled version of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), found that 58 percent of private sector workers have access to a plan, while 49 percent participate in one. Pew also found that more than 30 million full-time, full-year, private sector workers ages 18 to 64 lack access to an employer-based retirement plan, whether a traditional pension or a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k).

The report notes the numerous efforts at the state and federal levels to increase retirement savings. Illinois, for instance, adopted the Secure Choice Savings Program in 2015, which will start enrolling certain private sector workers in new payroll-deduction retirement accounts by 2017. In another example, the state of Washington created a marketplace in which small employers and the self-employed can shop for retirement plans. In addition, the federal government has rolled out the “myRA,” a new national savings program that is geared toward low-income savers. 

“Workplace retirement savings plans can be a critical piece of the retirement security puzzle,” said Scott. “But for millions of Americans, this piece is missing.”

The collective bargaining process has long been the key to ensuring a fair wage and access to retirement. As union membership declines we are continuing to see a reduction in our wages and access to benefits including retirement plans.  


More detailed information, including state-by-state breakdowns, is available in the report’s online interactive data visualization at www.pewtrusts.org/retirementaccess. 

Click here to download the full report.

Workers In Right To Work States Are Less Likely To Have Access To Retirement Plans

Pew Analysis Shows Access to Workplace Retirement Plans
Varies Widely Across States

Big differences among industries, incomes, ages, education, race and ethnicities

Wide differences in access to and participation in employer-based retirement plans exist across states, with variations by employer size and industry type as well as by workers’ income, age, education, race and ethnicity, according to a report released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report, Who’s In, Who’s Out: A Look at Access to Employer-Based Retirement Plans and Participation in the States, examines the rates of access to and participation in plans in all 50 states and assesses the challenges facing workers and employers in ensuring that Americans have sufficient resources to pay for their retirements.

Access and participation is higher in the Midwest, New England, and parts of the Pacific Northwest—and lower in the South and West. The report also finds that among Hispanic workers, access to a plan is around 25 percentage points below that for white non-Hispanic workers. Black and Asian workers also report lower rates of access than white workers.     

“Access to workplace retirement plans varies widely across the states,” said John Scott, director of Pew’s retirement savings project. “Recognizing the savings challenge faced by so many Americans, half of the states are looking at their own solutions.” 

There is a correlation between traditionally strong union states and access to retirement plans.  Workers in Right To Work (for less) states generally have much less access to retirement plans or pensions.

Below is an chart from the report that shows the percentage of workers who has access to some type of retirement plan.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.45.19 AMBelow is the current map of Pro-Labor / Right To Work states.  Notice that the overwhelming majority of Right To Work states have drastically less access to retirement plans. (Note: Wisconsin became a RTW state in March of 2015, Michigan in March of 2013, and Indiana in February of 2012.)

righttowork_uschart2015

Overall, Pew’s analysis, based on a pooled version of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), found that 58 percent of private sector workers have access to a plan, while 49 percent participate in one. Pew also found that more than 30 million full-time, full-year, private sector workers ages 18 to 64 lack access to an employer-based retirement plan, whether a traditional pension or a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k).

The report notes the numerous efforts at the state and federal levels to increase retirement savings. Illinois, for instance, adopted the Secure Choice Savings Program in 2015, which will start enrolling certain private sector workers in new payroll-deduction retirement accounts by 2017. In another example, the state of Washington created a marketplace in which small employers and the self-employed can shop for retirement plans. In addition, the federal government has rolled out the “myRA,” a new national savings program that is geared toward low-income savers. 

“Workplace retirement savings plans can be a critical piece of the retirement security puzzle,” said Scott. “But for millions of Americans, this piece is missing.”

The collective bargaining process has long been the key to ensuring a fair wage and access to retirement. As union membership declines we are continuing to see a reduction in our wages and access to benefits including retirement plans.  


More detailed information, including state-by-state breakdowns, is available in the report’s online interactive data visualization at www.pewtrusts.org/retirementaccess. 

Click here to download the full report.

Is Hearst’s Anti-Union History Repeating At WMUR?

What’s the Agenda Behind the News and Entertainment You Watch?

IMG_2193Hearst Corporation is one of the largest media corporations in the world. It has ownership interests in 360 different businesses, including cable networks A&E and ESPN; 30 television stations that reach one in five American households; dozens of magazines; and even digital outlets such as BuzzFeed (which reaches 190 million unique visitors around the world each month). Hearst Television is “the largest ABC affiliate group” and “the second-largest NBC affiliate owner” – and it even owns two CBS-affiliated stations. When you stop and look, Hearst seems to be pretty much everywhere.

Hearst also has one of the longest histories of opposing labor unions, starting with the Newsboys Strike of 1899. In 1944, Hearst Publications went all the way to the Supreme Court trying to keep its employees from forming a union.

And it looks like Hearst is still fighting unionization today. A group of 20 WMUR employees voted to form a union last April – and it’s now December, and Hearst management still doesn’t want to negotiate with the union about workers’ retirement benefits.

Even after receiving letters from presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Even after being contacted by Martin O’Malley’s campaign. Even after the Democratic National Committee and the New Hampshire Democratic Party removed WMUR as a sponsor of the December 19th presidential candidates’ debate, citing “WMUR’s unwillingness to move forward on scheduling negotiations between the Hearst Corporation and Production Department employees represented by IBEW Local 1228.”

Workers have a right to join together in a union.  Employers have the legal obligation to bargain – in good faith – with their employees’ union.

WMUR’s employees have decided to exercise their right to form a union. But it looks like WMUR management – following Hearst’s long history of fighting unions – is now refusing to allow those newly-unionized workers to keep their retirement plan.

Do you wonder if the anti-union agenda might be finding its way into the news and entertainment you watch?

Last year, Hearst Corporation “achieved record revenue and profit for the fourth straight year” – logging $10.3 billion in sales with profits benefitting the Hearst Family Trust. CEO Steven Swartz even sent out a “Thank you” letter celebrating employees’ “hard work and creativity.”

But that fourth-year-in-a-row CEO “Thank you!” is probably sounding pretty hollow to those 20 WMUR employees faced with losing their retirement plan.

Please sign this petition to tell CEO Swartz and the Hearst Family Trust to end their campaign against unions, and to negotiate fairly with the employees who helped the corporation make record-breaking profits.

#FITN: Governor Christie Wrecked His Own State, Now Wants To Wreck The Entire Country

A New Jersey Teacher Explains How Governor Christie Stole From Workers Pensions To Feed His Fat Cat Corporate Friends.

Offers A Warning To New Hampshire As Christie Stumps For GOP Primary 

By Melissa Tomlinson

(Image by Gage Skidmore FLIKR)

(Image by Gage Skidmore FLIKR)

 

A year ago David Sirota mentioned New Jersey with his piece titled The Pension Heist: How politicians raid retirement funds to enrich their corporate masters. He was referring to the Good Jobs First report of January 2014, showing that revenues lost to corporations through loopholes and tax breaks were outpacing the current cost of pension benefits to state employees. Although New Jersey was not one of the ten states that Good Jobs studied, David’s warning can be clearly heard, as he points out how Christie refused to make the actuarially necessary pension funds contributions, citing budget shortfalls as his reason while handing out $1.5 billion in corporate tax breaks. Through Christie’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program,  corporations were granted as high as 100% of some capital investments. While crying poor to the public to fund the state pension fund, he was also declaring that the state had enough money to afford these cuts because state revenue was on the rise.

It seems like David Sirota knew all too well what he was talking about. On February 24th, Governor Christie’s State of the Budget address focused almost entirely on New Jersey’s public pension system. So much so, the focus was to the exclusion of other pressing issues, such as transportation and infrastructure costs, since the Transportation Fund in NJ is, not surprisingly, also broke. Instead, taking a page out of the Republican playbook, Christie’s speech was full of plans about how he was going to freeze the current public pension system and create a new hybrid plan incorporating some features of a defined-contribution plan. This cash balance plan would redefine the whole pension system, transferring the state’s responsibility to fund public employee pensions to the state’s individual municipalities.

This ‘new’ plan that Governor Christie has recently been promoting all over the state of New Jersey as well as other states as he builds up support for his potential run for president is not really a new agenda. We have seen it before from those who seek to reduce the influence of the labor unions as a mainstay in the fight for economic freedom and democratic rights. Following the agenda, as explained in Crook’s and Liar’s “America’s Most Accomplished Looters: The Great Pension Robbery” New Jersey is rapidly approaching Layer Five: Convince the general public that public pensions must be “reformed” into defined contribution plans and that those plans could be more efficiently run by private financial interests.”

Whether or not this was the original intent when Christine Whitman neglected to fully fund the public pension in 1996, Governor Christie seems to have taken full advantage of the opportunity to completely gut the system by continuing the almost 20 year history of the state’s neglect to meet pension obligations. Current projection, without full payment or a clear plan to remit back payments in a manner to support future pension benefits, New Jersey’s pension fund is projected to be bankrupt as early as 2019.

 

New-Jersey-ARCs-vs-actual

(Source: Pension360.org)

But, not only did Governor Christie take advantage of the history of non- or reduced pension funding, he took things even further. In 2011, after a crisis call to the state that immediate action must be taken for the public pensions to be saved, he signed Chapter 78 into law.    Chapter 78 ushered in Pension and Health Benefit reforms that changed the manner in which the State-administered retirement systems operate along with the benefit provisions of those systems. Changes were also made to the State-administered Health Benefits Programs that affected both the employees’ contribution and the benefit provisions of those programs. Essentially, this law imposed, over a four year phase-in period, an employee contribution toward health benefits that was tiered based on salary and coverage level, with the top tier paying 35% of the cost of health benefits premiums.  In addition, employees saw an immediate increase to their pension contribution (from 5.5 to 6.5%) with an additional 1% phased in over 7 years.  The end result is that all NJ public employees will contribute 7.5% of salary to their pensions by the year 2018. In exchange, the Governor gave his promise that the state would adhere to their own phased in payment schedule that would have the state at full actuarial funding by the year 2018. Governor Christie publicized this on the website of the Governor’s Office as a monumental legislative victory for himself and bragged that he would be saving the taxpayers billions of dollars, fixing the system in order to save it, and provide real, long-term fiscal stability for future generations of New Jerseyans. Governor Christie made good on his promise for two years, but in 2014 he made less than half the mandated payment.  In 2015 he continued this practice, and his 2016 proposed budget includes only $1.3B of the $3.1B mandated by the law he both championed and signed.  Worse yet, under Governor Christie, the state has managed to accrue an almost fivefold increase in the amount of investment and management fees paid to private financial firms. Even more questionable is the fact that Christie’s wife, Mary Pat Christie, works at a firm that received fees after the termination of their contract with the state.

 

An even deeper look into the investment portfolio of New Jersey reveals that Exxon receives 1.4% of the state’s investment portfolio. With Christie’s willingness to accept a settlement with Exxon for an environmental disaster for merely pennies on the dollar, more questions need to be raised.

The most interesting development in the whole saga of the New Jersey Public Pension battle is that on February 23, 2015, the day before the State of the Budget address, a State Superior Court judge ruled that the governor broke the very law, Chapter 78, that he had signed, by cutting the state’s required pension payments. Hypocritically, Christie is appealing that ruling and now claims the law to be unconstitutional. The public is left to ask how many times  Christie will be afforded an opportunity to break his own law, once when signing it, and several times after when not authorizing several required full payments.

Christie claims that he will soon be announcing his final decision about the presidential race. The people of New Jersey send out a warning to the nation, beware the man that has the ability to twist the law to meet his own needs. There is no telling what could possibly occur if he were to be elected as the leader of our country.

Melissa Tomlinson: A teacher of students with special needs at the middle school level, realized that she was not alone in questioning the role of standardized testing in schools when she found the Badass Teachers Association. She was first pushed into the spotlight of fighting the methods of corporate educational reform when she faced Governor Chris Christie to ask about his public degradation of NJ Schools when they were rated one of the top three in the nation. Along with teaching and advocacy, Melissa runs the after school program in her school building, providing a place for students to receive extra educational assistance, exposure to career possibilities, and a safe place to be after school hours.

Melissa is the mother of two teenage sons and she fights for equitable education for all students, now and in the future.

Senate GOP Sentences Future Retirees onto Social Services

Image by Marc Nozell (CC Flickr)

Image by Marc Nozell (CC Flickr)

CONCORD – THURSDAY, on a party-line vote, the Republican-controlled Senate killed SB 364, a bill sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Larsen, (D-Concord), to create real pension reform for employees hired on or after July 1, 2011. Hard-working new public employees harmed by the disastrous retirement changes in 2011’s HB2 told their personal stories during the bill’s committee hearing. Today they came back to Concord in hopes to convince their Senators to vote for their families, for the economy, and against resource-shifting to the social services net.

“It’s a sad day in New Hampshire when our legislators refuse to listen to their constituents, kicking the can of real pension reform down the road again to burden a  future generation. Our public employees deserve better than partisan politics being  placed ahead of common sense and dignity.” said Laura Hainey, President of AFT-NH.

Chris Cummings, representing NH Troopers’ Association, noted the impacts this low new member benefit program is having on recruiting and retaining high-quality employees in the Granite State. “This bill would have given us an opportunity to compete for the best and brightest recruits to address today’s law  enforcement challenges. With this vote, Senate Republicans have turned their backs on the public safety of New Hampshire.”

For more information on the New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition, please visit nhretirementfacts.com and follow us @NH_RSC

UPDATED 1715

Senator Larsen Comments on Senate Bill 364

CONCORD – Senator Sylvia Larsen released the following comments after the defeat of Senate Bill 364 which would create real pension reform for newly hired public employees.

“I am disappointed we could not get a Senate majority to help pass SB 364. This bill would not change the fact that new hires are now required to work longer, retire at an older age, and pay more for their retirement benefit. It does however, include a compromise in the form of a defined contribution plan for Group I, which until recently has long been opposed by workers. I believe this bill represents real pension reform.”

“I believe there were unintended consequences during the 2011 legislative changes to the New Hampshire Retirement System, that’s why I introduced Senate Bill 364. After reviewing data last year from the New Hampshire Retirement System, I came to the conclusion that the Legislature must act now or else there will be a substantial social cost down the road.”

The current retirement plan creates a future generation of impoverished public employee retirees. It will provide only 45-49% salary replacement in retirement. Experts say that all retiring workers whether in the private or public sector need to receive between 80-85% of your last working year’s salary. Current law leaves the average firefighter retiring in 25 years with only $34,000 and teachers averaging $24,000 in retirement pay. That’s hardly a liveable wage now, let alone 25 years from now”

“Under the changes made in 2011, retired police, firefighters, and teachers thirty years from now could qualify for social services. It’s unacceptable to think that firefighters – who don’t receive social security and who spent decades running into burning buildings – would now be forced to survive on food stamps. We know we have problem now and have the advantage of years to offset the shortfall,” said Senator Larsen. “If we don’t act now, the Legislature will be kicking the can down the road and hoping a future Legislature will find a way to foot the bill and avoid thousands of police officers, firefighters, and teachers living on social services.”

“By failing to address the problem now and pass real pension reform, we are pushing costs for the state and taxpayers further into the future.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten On Detroit Bankruptcy Ruling

Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on Detroit bankruptcy ruling:

“This is a dark day for the people of Detroit who worked hard, played by the rules and are now at risk of losing everything. If Detroit wants to rebuild a strong economy, it needs to prioritize its workers and middle class over the interests of Wall Street bankers.

“Detroit’s bankruptcy was caused by predatory financial deals, a revenue crisis, massive job loss and Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to slash state aid.

“Detroit retirees earn an average pension benefit of $19,000 per year. The city’s public employees contributed to their retirement plan every year, while the city failed to make its full payments. Yet, the public employees now stand to earn substantially less. In the bankruptcy, the modest pensions of Detroit’s firefighters, police officers and other city employees could be all but wiped out, even as Wall Street banks continue to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from the city’s economy.

“According to a recent report, The Detroit Bankruptcy, modest pensions weren’t the cause of Detroit’s economic problems; rather, skyrocketing financial costs and decreased tax revenue were to blame. It’s unfair and unjust that public workers take a lion’s share of the hit, while Wall Street did the lion’s share of damage.”

(Read the NHLN Post on the Ruling here)

Senators Push The Race To The Bottom With Legislation To End Federal Defined Benefits

tom-coburn-1

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)

Federal workers have been the redheaded stepchildren to the GOP in Congress for many years.  First there was the Sequester that forced hundreds of thousands of federal worker to endure unpaid furloughs.  Then federal workers had to endure the forced government shutdown caused by extremists in the House of Representatives in opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Now Senators want to kick federal workers once again.

Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) have reintroduced legislation that would end the defined benefit pension portion of the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) for new federal government hires starting six months after enactment.” (FedSmith.com)

Say what? This group of Senators wants to completely end the defined benefit portion of federal workers retirement.  The bill named the Public-Private Employee Retirement Parity Act is being pushed as a way to cut costs.

Once again Republican are trying to balance their budgets on the backs of the dedicated federal workers.  This is a monsters push in the race to the bottom.

The reason they say that federal workers should not be getting a defined pension plan is because the average worker does not have a defined pension plan anymore.  The Senators explained in their press release.

Federal workers enjoy both a defined benefit pension and a Thrift Savings Plan (equivalent to a 401(k)) with up to a 5% match, paid for by the taxpayers. The average private sector employee gets a 401(k) with a 3% employer match and no pension.”

Senator Burr said, “We cannot ask taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for public employee benefits that are far more generous than their own.”

What they should be asking is, why doesn’t the private sector have what federal employees have?  For too long the GOP has pushed this idea that because you a private sector worker got screwed out of your pension it is not fair for anyone else to have one.
If I cannot have it, nobody can.

The Senators are correct that the private sector has continued to reduce pensions plans over the last 30 years.

Hedrick Smith, noted author and journalist, explained the decline in pension plans in a recent lecture in New Hampshire.

“By 1980, 84% of all companies with 100+ employees had a full pension for their retired workers; 70% of them had full healthcare coverage for retirees as well.

Now that ‘retirement security’ has all but disappeared.  Only 30% of companies with 100+ employees offer a pension; and only 18% offer retiree healthcare.  Those numbers go down every year, as workers who retired with these ‘outdated’ pensions are passing away.”

Workers have been shifted from a defined benefit plan to a 401(k) style plan. This puts their entire retirement in the hands of Wall Street gamblers.  This has created many other problems.

Many workers lost their defined pension plan for a 401(k) when they were within a few years of retirement.  This does not leave workers any time to build up their retirement savings plan to have adequate funds to retire.  Others lost their entire retirement when their employer filed for bankruptcy, ie ENRON, even through workers retirements are supposed to be protected.

All of this is making retirees more and more dependent on Social Security.

The Social Security Administration released some staggering facts about how much seniors rely on Social Security.

  • Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 53% of married couples and 74% of unmarried persons receive 50% or more of their income from Social Security.
  • Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 23% of married couples and about 46% of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.

With proposed cuts to Social Security the need for a defined pension becomes even more important.  With less money from retirements and less money in Social Security benefits that forces more seniors to live in poverty.

What’s next, cuts to food assistance programs? Oh wait they already did that!

 

LTE: Thank You Liz For Writing “Starting in Detroit…Next Stop: Social Security”

letters to the editor

A letter in response to Starting in Detroit… next stop: Social Security

Thank you for Liz Iacobucci’s report about creating debt hysteria to rob the people of the pensions they paid for. I have been looking carefully at the Social Security “actuarial deficit.” The one the Trustees report as 8.6 Trillion dollars over the next seventy five years, and 20 Trillion over “the infinite horizon.” It turns out those numbers mean that Social Security can be paid for by raising the payroll tax one tenth of one percent per year over the next twenty years, while wages are rising over one full percent per year. This translates to an extra eighty cents per week each year while wages rise 8 dollars per week. And the workers will get their money back with interest because the extra tax goes to pay for their longer life in retirement. Larry Kotlikoff does not understand this.

Dale Coberly
Corvallis, Oregon

  • Subscribe to the NH Labor News via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 12,489 other subscribers

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement