A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Misunderstanding Pensions

There is much I could say about the firing of Andrew McCabe, but I’ll confine myself to an issue his firing raises of import far beyond his individual case. The issue is the almost complete misunderstanding of what a pension is that permeates our media if not our society. As fewer and fewer people have defined benefit pensions, the very meaning of the terms seems to be evaporating.

One would think from the way pensions, particularly public employee pensions, are talked about that they are a reward for meritorious service upon retirement. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Pensions are deferred wages. A sum of money is paid by an employer periodically into a fund on behalf of an employee to provide income to that employee upon his retirement. The employee foregoes that money now to ensure a continuing income when he stops working.

When correctly understood, the taking of the pension of someone like McCabe who worked for over twenty years for an alleged contemporaneous infraction of FBI rules is particularly outrageous. He worked for the dollars that were put in the pension fund for him. We don’t ask him to return all of his pay checks for the twenty years of his employment. Why do we think his pension should be treated differently?

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Time for Some Offence on Tenure, Pensions Etc.

Until everyone, not just teachers, has tenure, the due process rights of teachers will be under attack by ideological zealots who play to the base emotions of many people who believe that because they lack protection from arbitrary dismissal, everyone should. The more educators and their organizations defend tenure, the more their defense is seen as a desperate attempt to maintain a privilege denied to most others.

Rather than simply playing defense, why not promote the idea that no one should be fired without just cause and without some procedural rights to ensure whether or not cause exists. The time for such an approach may be at hand, given that the American public is increasingly sensitive to the probability that the current economic system is rigged against them. Might it not be appealing to say to those who envy our protection from arbitrary firing, “You know, we understand your envy. We have enjoyed a privilege that really ought to belong to every working person in our nation. No workers should fear losing their jobs for no good reason.

We need to take the same approach to defined benefit pensions as well. Why aren’t we talking about every worker having a secure retirement? Why are an increasing number of our elderly having to exist on the completely inadequate Social security benefits currently provided?

There is so much economic insecurity in our nation today. Advancing programmatic measures aimed at reducing the feeling many have that they are living on the edge of an economic abyss could become politically popular. Look at the unexpected response Bernie Sanders is receiving.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Cuomo Attacks Pensions

Rather than taking pride in New York’s teacher and state employee pension systems that, unlike many others, are fully funded, our ambitious governor just had to do the politically popular thing in his state of the state address and call for a new and worse tier to our pension systems. He, like many, seems to believe that the road to the Whitehouse is best negotiated by the trashing of public employees, especially their pension benefits.

Governor Angry Andy surely knows that over the last 20 years our teachers’ retirement system has received $15.3 billion in member and employer contributions while paying out, $63.5 billion in benefits, the difference coming from a sound, productive investment strategy. He also knows that while paying out more than it took in, the system’s assets grew by over $50 billion. What an economical way to provide retirement security to people who spend their productive years teaching the children of our state.

The Governor also knows that the fund covering state and local government workers is also fully funded and has produced similar investment results. He knows that the investment portfolios of both retirement funds have recovered from the hit they took during the recent financial crisis and that employer contribution rate should soon begin to fall again.

Cuomo’s call for a further cheapening of our pension systems can only be understood as a cynical political act to balance a revenue starved budget on the backs of New York’s public servants making it more difficult for them to achieve what should be the right of every worker – retirement security.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have No Comments