Friday, April 27, 2012

Tell lawmakers to leave our retirement systems alone!

Soon - perhaps next Tuesday, May 1 - the House and Senate will both consider retirement bills that would weaken the retirement systems, make them less effective advocates for retirees, and reduce benefits for future, and even some current, public employees.

No matter what you hear from legislators, many of these bills will also have an effect on K-12 teachers - click here to find out why K-12 teachers should be as concerned as other public servants about these plans.

Because bills are being heard in both the House and Senate, it is important that you send two messages, one to each legislative body.

Please click here to send a message to your State Representative about HB 1198 and HB 61.

Please click here to send your State Senator a message about SB 33, SB 52, SB 47 and SB 749.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Teachers sick-out to protest charter school pay cut

Teachers at a Baton Rouge charter school staged a sick-out on Wednesday to protest a 20 percent pay cut imposed by the board that runs the school.

Crestworth Learning Academy, which is operated by Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, is apparently facing a budget crisis because of low pupil enrolment.

Teachers say they will lose between $400 and $80 per paycheck because of the decision. They are also being removed from the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana, which will affect retirement plans.

Neither the principal of the school nor spokesmen for the church would speak to reporter Kiran Chawla, who filed this report for WAFB-TV.

Why teachers should worry about retirement bills this year

Some legislators are upset that teachers and school employees are calling them about retirement issues. They point out that current K-12 educators are not included in the governor's attacks on state retirement systems this year. They say that teachers and school employees have nothing to worry about this year.

On a very simple and misleading level, they are correct. Currently employed K-12 teachers and school employees were carefully edited out of some retirement bills, although higher education faculty members of the Teachers Retirement System are definitely at risk.

Simply saying that K-12 educators aren't affected this year, however, does not mean they have nothing to worry about. If the so-called "reforms" pass this year, it is almost certain that teachers and school employees will be added to the list in upcoming legislative sessions.

But that's not the only reason for teachers and school employees to oppose attacks on the retirement systems of other workers.

First of all, we owe it to other employees to support their interests, especially if we ever hope to have their support when we are under the gun. The more we stick together, the better our chances of having decent and sustainable retirement plans for all of us.

And if you are looking for a more technical and layered reason for concern, we have that for you as well.

If the proposed retirement system changes go through, teachers and school employees will be indirectly but definitely affected. Here's how LFT Legislative Director Mary-Patricia Wray explains it:

The investment strategy of the board will change, and the decisions made on behalf of all plan participants, new or old, will be influenced by the changes made to final average compensation, retirement eligibility, DROP eligibility, employer and employee contribution rates and the proposed institution of a cash balance plan.

The prospective language in the bills is a facade that fails to fully disguise the retroactive nature of these bills. The governor's package, if adopted in whole or part, will increase the unique investment interests of plan participants since different members will be eligible to retire at different ages, under different styles of pensions, and with vastly different income levels.

The board managing of each retirement system will have a fiduciary duty to all members, making the wisest investment decisions for each fund. Meanwhile they will have to change past investment strategies to accommodate new hires who will have completely different levels of tolerance for risk-taking. Ultimately it will impact the funded ratio of the system, and thereby every single member of the system, whether a career employee or a new hire.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Coalition fights to save state pensions

Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) says Gov. Jindal's retirement system changes threaten the state's middle class.
At a capitol press conference Monday, a coalition of firefighters, teachers, law enforcement personnel, AARP retirees, local leaders, state budget experts, and others exposed and rejected Governor Jindal’s pension-slashing scheme on middle class Louisiana workers.

Governor Jindal is trying to force through the legislature one of the most extreme overhauls of a state-run pension system anywhere in the nation, without the benefit of a transparent and open debate.

Shrouded in secrecy, Jindal’s pension slashing scheme, includes a so-called “cash balance plan” that turns pensions over to Wall Street. According to an actuarial note prepared by the Actuarial Services Department of the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the proposed cash balance plan would likely cost more than the current defined benefit plan. The report goes on to note, “Because there is no Social Security coverage [for state workers], such a member may very well become a ward of the state because he or she has no other available resources.”
Rep. James K. Armes (District 30) said: “The public deserves openness and transparency from their government especially when it comes to their retirement security. Unfortunately, Governor Jindal insists on secrecy. Even worse, his plan punishes Louisiana’s middle class workers by handing over their pensions to greedy Wall Street insiders who crashed our economy in the first place.”

Kerri Everitt, Advocacy Director for AARP said: “The Governor’s ‘cash balance plan,’ is particularly bad for retirees because state employees do not get Social Security. The plan will cost the state money and leave retirees in poverty. Instead of punishing working people and our seniors we should be making big corporations and Wall Street pay their fair share.”

Jan Moller, Director for Louisiana Budget Project said: “The cash balance plan is a lose-lose for Louisiana. It’s bad for taxpayers and bad for state employees. It’s especially risky for state employees, who do not receive Social Security and whose families would be vulnerable if they die or become disabled before they retire.”

Stacy Birdwell, Professional Fire fighters Association of Louisiana: “Firefighters don’t become firefighters to get rich. But we at least expect there to be a decent and guaranteed retirement at the end of a lifetime of hard work. We stand with our fellow state workers and demand politicians stop trying to turn our retirement security over to Wall Street.

Brenda G Matthews, qualified teacher aide, East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers: “It’s shameful when politicians show such disrespect to the people who work every day to make the next generation of this state better and smarter. This plan is immoral and does not represent Louisiana values it represents Wall Street values. We must stop trying to sell the state and its people off to Wall Street and start making Wall Street and the richest one percent pay their fair share.

According to a new study from the Louisiana State Employees' Retirement System, based on the decisions they make, a worker who has already worked 10 years and plans to retire at age 55 with 28 years of service would have their pension slashed by $18,500 per year. Alternatively, someone currently with 20 years under their belt and plans to retire at age 55 with 25 years of service would see their pension chopped by $6000 per year.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Retirement bills taking center stage

Now that major elements of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education package have been steamrolled through the legislature, attention is turning to the bills filed on his behalf that change state retirement systems.

Teacher and school employee system merger: Only one of the bills directly affects K-12 teachers and school employees – HB 60 by Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell), which would merge the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana and the Louisiana School Employees Retirement System. That bill was changed so drastically on the House floor (it ballooned from 10 pages to 86 pages) that it was assigned a new number, HB 1198 by Rep. Pearson.

LFT opposes the bill because both systems work well, provide better retirement security than the private market and have earned the confidence of their members. It will be heard on the House floor on April 25.

The merger would abolish LSERS and transfer all its property, rights, obligations and employees into the Teachers’ system. In the process, 30 employees would lose their jobs within a year. That greatly increases the work load on remaining staff, and could cause a reduction in services for the members of the merged systems.

Why other retirement bills should concern educators

Other retirement bills in the governor’s package pose a threat to K-12 educators, even though they are not directly mentioned. The net effect of the Jindal plan is to dismantle the state‘s defined benefit retirement system. The ultimate objective is to replace pensions with market-based plans, putting employee retirement into 401(k)-type investment plans that do not guarantee an income.

If the governor succeeds in dismantling state employee pension systems, there is little doubt that teacher and school employee pensions will be next.

To read about specific retirement bills, please click here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A message from LFT President Steve Monaghan: Elections have consequences

“Elections have consequences.”

Type that sentence into your search engine, and you’re likely to get more than 32 million hits.

What has happened to public education in the past few weeks has taught me (and I am quite sure many others) new respect for the “consequences” statement. Never have we seen an election that has had such dire consequences.

Attacks on the professionals who dedicate their lives to our children have never been so vicious. The destruction of our public schools has never been so imminent.

In January, Gov. Jindal launched his “bold education reform” in a speech to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. In it, he compared teachers to drug dealers and batterers.

This month, the legislature passed one law that will dismantle our schools and divert billions of public dollars to private, religious and corporate schools, and another law that bases virtually all personnel decisions on the controversial new ‘Value Added Model” of teacher evaluation. The proverbial train is on the tracks.

Education was first in the crosshairs, but we’re not the only target. Governor Jindal and his allies are ruthlessly pursuing the most radical deconstruction of public services ever seen in Louisiana. State employees, public safety and health care will be next on the chopping block.

To read more, please click here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Don't let them silence our voices!

Click here to send a message to members of the House and Govenmental Affairs Committee.

In an effort to silence the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and other public sector unions, a bill has been introduced to strike at the unions’ source of funding.

The bill is clearly aimed at stopping us from taking a civil, principled stand against current anti-public education and anti-public services legislation.

HB 1023 by Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) would prohibit “any entity which engages in political activity from receiving public payroll withholdings or deductions.”

Under current law, members of unions like ours can opt to pay their dues through payroll deduction. This is neither a special privilege nor a burden on taxpayers. It is a service that is available to credit unions, insurance companies and other recognized vendors, as well as unions.

Because most members of LFT and other public sector unions pay their dues through payroll deduction, Rep. Seabaugh’s bill is an obvious threat to the very existence of advocacy organizations.

This bill is an effort to silence the voice of opposition. It is aimed at the LFT and other public sector unions that oppose attacks on professional educators, the wholesale privatization of public services, and the destruction of the public retirement systems.

Organizations that support these schemes are financed by deep-pocketed corporations and individuals. Their funding would not be affected by Rep. Seabaugh’s bill.

Unions like the LFT represent the interests of workers who dedicate their professional lives to the children of the state. In a civil, professional manner, we bring their concerns to the legislature.

Freedom of speech and freedom of association are crucial to a representative form of government. Prohibiting the payroll deduction of union dues would stifle those freedoms and ultimately weaken our democracy.

HB 1023 has been assigned to the Committee on House and Governmental Affairs. Please take action now, and ask members to vote NO when the bill comes before them.

Click here to send a message to members of the House and Govenmental Affairs Committee.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Appeal court rules school furloughs violate the law

(Baton Rouge – April 11, 2012) In a decision that will have a major impact on school districts around the state, an appeals court has ruled that districts may not reduce school employees’ salaries by furloughs or other means.

The unanimous ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal declares that the Jefferson Parish School Board acted improperly when it imposed a one-day furlough on non-teaching school employees on June 7 of 2011. The ruling overturns a trial court’s decision that the board’s action was within the law.

“This is a great day for the rights of school employees,” Jefferson Federation of Teachers President Meladie Munch said of the ruling. “It asserts that employees must be treated with respect and dignity, and it affirms the rule of law over the whims of the school board.
“The legislature passed these bills to protect school employees from actions like this,” she said.

To read more, please click here.

The world behind the world behind the scenes

In the realm of legislation, there are at least three layers. The most visible to the public is the one in which votes are taken and laws adopted. Behind the scenes of that world is another in which deals are made and votes traded.

That is the layer most people think of when they hear the quote usually attributed to Otto von Bismarck, “Laws are like sausages – it’s best not to see them being made.” The idea of legislators basing their votes on the currency of favors and promises can make the public queasy. It’s an inelegant and gritty system, but it grinds out laws like sausage and keeps the machinery of government functioning.

But there is at least one other world, deeper in the legislative shadows, that can have a much greater impact than petty cloakroom horse trading. That is the world in which the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, operates.

ALEC, as Matt Reichel reports in this post, is “a conduit between corporate boardrooms and elected officials willing to enact their agenda of austerity and privatization.” ALEC’s agenda is to simultaneously reduce the tax burden on its corporate sponsors and to channel what government funds remain into their corporate coffers.

ALEC creates model legislation that benefits its members, including, Reichel writes, “prison privatization, stripping collective bargaining rights, reducing or eliminating environmental protections, and enacting regressive tax laws.”

Also looming large on ALEC’s agenda is a corruption of the charter school movement to enrich corporate providers.

One example is Act 417 of the 2011 Louisiana legislature, which was written “to provide for enrollment preferences and membership on the governing or management board of a charter school for certain major corporate donors; and to provide for related matters.”

Note that charter school expansion benefitting corporate providers, prison privatization, regressive tax laws and an attack on collective bargaining rights all figure prominently in this year’s legislative session as well.

Maybe – just maybe – ALEC has gone too far in its underground campaign to raid the public treasury and turn our nation in to a corporate plutocracy. Jamie Lorber, a reporter for Roll Call on Washington, DC’s Capitol Hill, writes here that some of ALEC’s sponsors are reconsidering their support.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has withdrawn support for ALEC. Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and Intuit have also announced that they are pulling back from ALEC.

The reason why should bring a smile to all true believers in small-d democracy. An African-American civil rights group, Color of Change, has campaigned relentlessly for corporations to sever their ties to ALEC.

Color of Change, writes Lorber, went after ALEC because of its model legislation opposing voter ID laws:

“Civil rights activists say the laws disproportionately target minority, student and elderly voters, who tend to vote Democratic, and could bar up to 5 million voters from the polls this fall…Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson said the group is using Internet appeals to pressure companies that have made explicit efforts to build a strong relationship with African-American customers.”

It’s a good sign that people aren’t completely powerless in the face of the corporate juggernaut. If you’d like to join Color of Change’s campaign to separate ALEC from its corporate sponsors, click here.