It has always been a fascination when I read about pensions — especially forced pension payments from those who are made to pay as a requirement of their continued employment, with some paying over $800 a month into State “pension” coffers — and how those workers are demonized by the Far Right who believe public servants and private pensioners are somehow taking advantage of those who do not pay into a pension program. Pensions are not payoffs or welfare. Pensions are earned investment money entrusted to public or private equity.
Pension programs are deferred salary. Pensions are owed to workers when they retire. Pensions are not gifts from employers to employees — pensions are quite the opposite.
On October 3, 2011, I wrote an article — Making Retirees Pay — that is still too painful to read today because nothing has been fixed and all the threats to pensioners are still active and alive:
New York State is currently clubbing retirees using two vicious attacks. The first is to arbitrarily cut the amount of accrued sick day hours allowed from 1,400 to 400 that are used to determine how much a retiree will pay for healthcare in automatic pension deductions. That’s a massive cleaving of goodwill that adds up to losing over two decades of credited sick days with zero sum benefit — and the lesson is clear to current employees: Use your sick days now and don’t bank them for your retirement!
The second angle of attack is even more insidious: New York State is “updating” the actuarial tables that they claim haven’t been updated since 1976 to determine how long they will have to pay pensions. Since people are living longer, and States have to pay for healthcare longer, New York’s point-of-view is that you will have a higher pension deduction for healthcare to offset you expected good health and longevity.
I cannot imagine the pain of working for 40 years and expecting to collect on a certain promise of a pension in your old age that just disappears into thick air as if you never paid a penny into any fund.
How is it possible to lose all that money and toss workers in poverty just at the age they think they will be able to get a return on their investment?
Carelessness and dirty politics are the main evil culprits — and those ongoing, terroristic, threats to our retirement funds and pension plans safety — were addressed in a recent New York Times article:
The pensions of millions of Americans are being threatened because of trouble in a part of the retirement world long considered so safe that no one gave it a second thought.
The pensions belong to people in multiemployer plans — big pooled investment funds with many sponsoring companies and a union. Multiemployer pensions are not only backed by federal insurance, but they also were thought to be even more secure than single-company pensions because when one company in a multiemployer pool failed, the others were required to pick up its “orphaned” retirees.
In the comments flow for that article, this prescient and precise reader staked out the right, damning, ground:
In the early 70’s, the top wealthy people decided to launch a counter-revolution to take back all of the wealth and power that working people had acquired from them in the preceding 70 years. They made a plan that included massive tax cuts thereby defunding public services, offshoring of jobs to avail themselves of cheap offshore labor thereby sinking the labor market and deregulation so they could run roughshod of anybody who couldn’t afford to sue them.
Knowing full well that these policies would be very unpopular, they bought off politicians to change the laws and hired the media and an army of public relations experts (“think tanks”) to neutralize and divert public opposition. After 40 years of this campaign we are living with its results, of which the failure of pooled pension funds, is but one sad example.
Don’t forget this terrible news, fresh yesterday from the Great State of New Jersey:
The amount of money New Jersey has spent on corporate tax giveaways and investment fees since Gov. Chris Christie (R) took office would be more than enough to replace the $2.4 billion he just took from the state’s pension funds to balance the budget.
The governor’s most recent budget had promised $3.8 billion for the state’s struggling pension funds over the next two years, but he announced last week that he would take back $2.43 billion of that total. Christie said the move was “not only the best but the only decision we’re left with” for the state’s $2.7 billion two-year deficit.
New Jersey isn’t alone in its sins against its public employees, there are some States, like New York, that claim pensions cannot be touched as part of their founding State Constitutions; but we now know nothing sacred is forever and we certainly appreciate little matters in the mains of morality — and doing the right thing has no standing in today’s political nomenclature.
If the elderly are misfortunate enough to be politically vulnerable, and feeble enough to not protest the stealing of their money from the public square, well, that’s their fault and problem, right? They’re old and hapless and unemployed; so, as the immoral rationalization sinks and slinks into the mainstream mindset, the pension scams must move forward, unabated, because most employers and political leaders want more than they’re owed and they get it by paying less than they earned.