Retirees

The Retiree chapter of SEIU Local 205 has been in existence since 2000 and was formed with the goal of advocating for the rights of retired employees and seniors. Whether its protecting Social Security, strengthening Medicare, or ensuring our union’s employers keep the commitments they’ve made to their employees, the Retiree chapter continues to stay active.

The GASB Campaign

The chapter grew the most in the spring of 2007, when Metro Government in Nashville considered major changes in retiree benefits. Metro was spurred on to act by the Bush Administration’s new regulations under the General Accounting Standards Board, but Local 205’s Retiree chapter didn’t take things laying down. Local 205 retirees led the fight against cuts to benefits with a series of town hall meetings and lobby days, which culminated in a Public Hearing at the Metro Council that drew over 400 supporters. The Council, seeing the massive public outcry against cutting retiree benefits, shelved the matter and has not attempted any action to this day. The GASB campaign drew in many new members to the Retiree chapter, but as is often the case, when the crisis went away, so did the activism of many of the members.

Retiree Chapter, “Version 2.0”

Cut to 2009. A new crisis—this one related to healthcare– inspires a new group of retired SEIU members to take action and organize. Under the new leadership of Gloria Jones (retired from Meharry Medical College in Nashville), Local 205’s Retiree chapter has taken on new officers and a new urgency. “We are now seeing a coordinated attack on healthcare reform, Social Security, and public employee pensions that is funded by corporations who are only interested in lining their pockets,” Gloria says. “Retirees and seniors are a valuable resource. We have lots of experience, lots of connections in our community, and in many cases, lots of time to help the cause of stopping this attack on America’s workers and retirees”. Since the beginning of 2010, the Retiree chapter has held monthly meetings that have featured a wide variety of speakers and topics. Don Majors, who works at Congressman Jim Cooper’s office, spoke to members about the Affordable Care Act when it first passed. Patrick Lillard from the AARP spoke about his organization’s activities and Tony Garr from the Tennessee Health Care Campaign revealed what benefits Americans will receive under the new healthcare reform bill. Several representatives of the Metro Benefit Board have attended meetings to talk about Metro’s benefit package. Retiree chapter members also provided valuable support by making phone calls and knocking doors in support of the Union’s endorsed candidates during the May elections. “This has been a wonderful year,” Gloria says. “But we have a lot to do next year if we are to continue to grow”.

A Plan for Growth

The Retiree chapter took the first steps towards growing their organization by forming subcommittees organized by employer. As a result, the Retiree chapter now has a Metro committee, a Meharry committee, and an N.E.S. committee. “The reason we did that is because we have different employers and different benefit packages. While we all share the same overall goals of advocating for retiree and senior issues across Tennessee, this new structure allows us to still keep a focus on what each of our own employers is up to.” Gloria and her fellow officers believe this is a way to encourage growth. “We would love to see retired SEIU members in Memphis, Chattanooga, and Oak Ridge join the Local’s Retiree chapter and this structure hopefully encourages that”.

Joan Parmer, a retired SEIU member who used to work for the Metro Action Commission as a Head Start teacher, sums up the mission of Local 205’s Retiree chapter best. “We may have new officers and a new set of bylaws, but we have the same commitment to activism”.

If you are an SEIU member who is planning on retiring within the year, please contact the union for more information about joining the Retiree chapter. Dues are $5/month or $60/yr.

(SEIU members Joan Parmer and Gloria Jones contributed to this article.)

Nashville Public Employees Respond to Pew Report on Benefits

Close to 200 Metro employees and SEIU members packed the Howard School Building to hear Pew's proposal for benefit changes for city employees.

Close to 200 Metro employees and SEIU members packed the Howard School Building to hear Pew’s proposal for benefit changes for city employees.

Workers on Public Employee Pension and Health Systems: “It Ain’t Broke… Don’t Fix It”

Hundreds of Nashville firefighters, nurses, law enforcement officers, librarians, water technicians, school employees, and other public service workers and retirees spoke out against a proposal by Pew Charitable Trusts to cut public employee and retiree benefits at a meeting of the Study and Formulating Committee.

Pew issued an interim report that explored a proposal for Metro Nashville to close its existing defined-benefit pension plan and shift future employees into a state pension plan that is a combination – or “hybrid” – of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-type defined-contribution plan. A hybrid proposal would shift more of the costs onto employees, who make on average about $33,000/ year according to a recent compensation study. “A lot of us have to take second jobs to make ends meet and many of us are single moms,” said Vanessa Sanders, a labor and delivery nurse at General Hospital. “After taxes, transportation, health insurance, and all the other necessities, we just cannot afford to have more money come out of our paychecks for a retirement contribution.”

Many questioned the need for any changes after the city conducted a similar study of employee benefits in 2012 in which several key adjustments to the plan were already made. Recently, Metro’s actuaries revealed that the city’s defined benefit plan is 83% funded, putting it in the top tier of public pension funds. CNBC reported that in 2013, the Nashville plan’s investment returns were the fifth highest of all city and state plans in the U.S. In other cities and states that have shifted to a “hybrid” type like the one proposed by Pew, costs to taxpayers increased while benefits for beneficiaries decreased. “If changing the system is actually going to cost the city more money and deliver less of a benefit to workers, why the heck would we do it,” asked Rick Beasley, a 911 dispatcher. “It sounds to me like Pew is creating a “lose-lose” situation that leaves taxpayers and employees paying more and getting less.”

“It ain’t broke, and we don’t need Pew fixing it,” said Jack Byrd, a corrections officer. Pew’s work has been funded by a foundation organized by billionaire John Arnold, a former Enron executive and hedge fund manager. Some have criticized Arnold’s efforts, saying that hedge fund managers like Arnold collect generous sums in fees for managing the funds while workers are left with reduced pension benefits.

The Service Employees International Union, Local 205, which represents thousands of Metro employees across dozens of city departments, agencies, and in Metro schools, made it clear that it opposes any changes to employee benefits. “Pew and their allies are proposing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Doug Collier, president of Local 205. “If there are any cuts that need to happen in Nashville, it should be to the tax breaks and corporate welfare being handed out to millionaires.”

Pew officials ultimately admitted in their interim report to the Study & Formulating Committee that Metro’s pension is in “solid financial shape,” but did find significant concerns with the unfunded liability the city has as a result of its retiree medical program. The Committee announced that Pew’s work in ongoing and another report is expected in the coming months to examine some remaining issues. The Committee’s next meeting date has not been announced yet.

Leave a comment

Pew/Arnold Study on Metro Benefits Causes Confusion and Controversy

(Nashville)  Representatives from Pew Charitable Trusts caused confusion and controversy at a meeting of the Study & Formulating Committee when they revealed data about the Metro employee pension fund that conflicted with data presented by the city’s actuaries.

On multiple occasions, members of the Study & Formulating Committee attempted to get a straight answer from Pew representatives on the amount that Metro’s pension plan is funded at – a number which is crucial in determining if any reforms to the retirement system are even necessary. In a memo to the Committee on July 22, Pew/Arnold stated that Metro was funded at 77%, a number that was debunked by representatives from Bryan, Pendleton, Swats & McAllister, the independent actuary that serves Metro Government. According to BPS&M, Nashville’s open pension plan was funded at a healthy 85% (13% higher than the average state-level pension plan) in 2013. “I want to make sure we aren’t sounding alarms that don’t need to be sounded,” said Glenn Farner, one of the members of the Study & Formulating Committee, to the crowd in attendance.

“It is very disappointing to see an organization like Pew risk its reputation with this kind of fuzzy math in order to push an ideological agenda that puts the retirements of thousands of Middle Tennessee working families at risk,” said Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. SEIU represents public employees in Metro government departments as well as Metro schools support staff, nearly all of whom are covered under Metro’s benefits plan.

Despite its credible name, Pew is partnering with the John & Laura Arnold Foundation to push a particularly dangerous plan to cripple public pensions all across the country. The Wall Street Journal identified Texas billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold as one of the major forces behind efforts to cut worker pensions at the city and state level. Arnold, who was the subject of a Department of Justice investigation related to his work at Enron (including accusations of insider training and his role in wiping out the retirements of thousands of Enron employees) has funneled massive amounts of money to pension-gutting politicians and their super PACs. His foundation has also directed $4.85 billion to Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Public Sector Retirement Systems” project, which has produced anti-pension research used by state lawmakers to justify cutting into public workers’ retirement benefits, often replacing them with more expensive, less reliable and widely-discredited 401(k) plans or their newer cousin, “hybrid pension plans,” which bring with them hefty bank fees and unnecessary risk for seniors.

The Pew/Arnold work has been called “deceptive” by a host of state legislators in Kentucky after the organizations convinced the state of Kentucky to adopt a new “cash balance plan” which the legislators said “will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, will not reduce our state’s unfunded liability, and will diminish retirement security.” Pew also recently dropped into Jacksonville, Florida to provide policy recommendations addressing the city’s retirement challenges. There, Pew provided a flawed actuarial analysis that wildly overstated the Jacksonville police and fire pension fund’s problems. The city ultimately rejected Pew’s advice.

“It seems like everywhere Pew/Arnold goes, their recommendations are the same – to weaken the retirement security of public employees,” Collier said. According to investment research firm Morningstar, Metro Nashville was the seventh-highest ranked public pension fund in the U.S., with an ROI of 18.3% in 2013. “It ain’t broke, so there is no need for Pew/Arnold to try and fix it,” said Collier.

Another controversy plaguing the Study & Formulating Committee is its agenda. The current committee was formed by Mayor Karl Dean at the request of Metro Council members who asked the mayor to appoint a committee “specifically to consider the provision of domestic partner benefits,” according to a letter signed by 26 city council members on Oct. 2, 2013. “It was never the intent of the Council for this committee to be debating and discussing other employee benefits,” said Collier. “The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an exhaustive study like this only two years ago and the changes that needed to be made were made. It is time for this current committee to be dissolved since their work on domestic partner benefits is concluded.”

####

The Service Employees International Union is one of the fastest-growing labor unions in the U.S. with over 2.1 million members in North America. In Tennessee, SEIU Local 205 is chartered to represent thousands of public and private sector workers.

Leave a comment