California Unions Protect Pensions Yet Again

Three Senate Bills were defeated in Committee that would have targeted public sector pensions. Local 21’s lobbyist, along with union advocates from across the state, made sure union members’ voices were heard and our pensions were protected.

Despite being the most union-friendly state in the country, California union members have to fight off proposals to weaken our pensions in legislative session after legislative session. This year alone, both a Republican and a Democrat introduced Senate Bills that would have had a significant negative impact on pensions for public sector workers like us.

  •   Senate Bill 1032 would have allowed employers to break the promises they made to their employees by making it easy for employers to end their CalPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System) participation. The new law would have allowed employers to end their pension program, not pay out their pension liability, and also allow members’ benefits to be reduced as a result. Public workers who have paid into their pension for years and are depending on those benefits could have been denied promised benefits with little cost to the employer had this bill succeeded.
  •   Senate Bill 1031 would have prohibited future retirees from receiving cost of living adjustments if CalPERS, CalSTRS (California State Teachers' Retirement System) and other state retirement systems were to have less than 80% of the total funds needed to cover all pension obligations. This is despite the fact that the health of a pension system cannot be properly assessed in a snapshot, nor can pensions realistically be expected to have money on hand at all times to fully cover all future debts. Retirees could have seen incomes stagnate in an environment where cost of living has been rising rapidly across much of the state.
  •   Senate Bill 1149 would have allowed employers to move new employees away from a secure pension by giving them the “choice” of a 401K instead. This Bill was proposed despite the fact that pensions result in higher retirement payments and are more stable than 401ks. Even worse, if this law were successful, it could have eventually financially destabilized our pensions. We need more people to contribute to our pension funds to keep them healthy, not fewer. This law would also put us in a disadvantaged position in future rounds of bargaining, because our employers would come to the table and say that because fewer people are contributing to the pension it is underfunded, and therefore everyone has to move to a 401k program just like newer employees. 

Pensions are a complicated issue, made even more so by the mismanagement of our country’s financial health during the great recession. In many jurisdictions, corporations that were behind the crash were allowed to get off scot-free without fixing the effects caused by their greed. Pension systems across the state are still recovering, and the workers depending on them for our retirement deserve better than to be the target of attacks by the super-rich asserting that we are the real reason public services aren’t funded well enough.

Local 21 has seen pension attacks on a very personal level, from Prop B in San Francisco to the multi-year pension battle in San Jose. Union employees across the Bay made significant sacrifices to keep our jurisdictions running during the great recession. Yet we are still being attacked for our benefits while the economy was recovering. Billionaires like Chuck Reed are waiting for the upcoming Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision before unleashing more of these attacks, in hopes that the decision will weaken unions by reducing our membership numbers and putting a strain on our resources so that we won’t be able to fight back.

Let’s make sure that we stay strong and keep fighting off these attacks against workers. Strong unions are a check on the power and influence of the super-rich, because when regular people stand together we are STRONG. If you haven’t signed a Gold Membership Card yet and committed to being a member of Local 21, do so now! We are counting on each other!