Peace Officers Research Association of California > Press Release: President’s Message June 2010

Press Release: President’s Message June 2010

The Primary

Who gets to square off against Jerry Brown? There seems to be no doubt that Jerry Brown will be the Democrat left standing when the primary is over. The $64 million question (I am sure Meg Whitman has spent much more than that) is who will be left standing in the Republican primary? Since both Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman have been beating each other’s brains out to show who is the most conservative — who makes Rush Limbaugh look like Jimmy Carter — it may not make any difference as to which one wins the Republican primary. It does not appear that either one has any empathy for the public employee. Well, when you are dealing with billionaires, the little guy seems to always get lost in the shuffle. Meg and Steve do have a lot in common, especially when they talk about pension reform.

Pensions, the Fervor Will Not Die

Well, we thought the issue might die down a little bit when the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility (CFFR) pulled their initiatives from circulation, and of course, when the McCauley initiatives failed to obtain the proper amount of signatures to become viable. That seemed to be very short lived and it appears the press continued the onslaught of blaming public employees for all the economical woes in California. The political season does not help either, with some of the candidates crawling over each other to tout how they can cut back pay and benefits for public employees. The governor jumped on the bandwagon, again, and introduced pension reform into his May Revise budget proposal. The governor also backed Senator Dennis Hollingsworth’s Senate Bill 919. This jewel of a proposal was another attempt to create two-tier pensions and rollbacks through the legislative process and not at the bargaining table.

It truly seems that the public employee, specifically public safety employees, have become the personification of the evil empire to newspaper publishers and the “sky is falling” right-wing advocates who want to blame public employees for the economic decline of California. Of course, they do this by attaching the appellation of “Union” as a tag line when publicly thrashing us for working to improve the wages, benefits, rights and working conditions for the public safety employee — that means you. You have to ask yourself these questions: What did public employees have to do with allowing the real estate market to crash? What did public employees have to do with allowing bankers and mortgage houses to create subprime loans? What did public employees have to do with allowing the securitization of these loans into bonds so they could be traded like stocks, betting on your failure? What did public employees have to do with allowing bankers to create risky investment vehicles for personal profit? What did public employees have to do with the implosion of the world markets? Can’t think of anything? Neither can I.

Rest assured, we are being blamed for the economic woes of numerous cities and counties. Their targets are the salaries, benefits and pensions of all public employees, especially public safety. They want to focus on the current cost of the benefits and totally forget what was given up to pay for those benefits. They want to ignore the fact that the majority of public safety employees will not receive Social Security benefits in retirement. Yes, even though some of you are still required to pay into Social Security, your benefits will be reduced or not available at all because you (or your spouse) will receive a government pension. That sounds pretty fair — NOT. Can you calculate what your city or county has saved by not paying Social Security for you all these years? Where did that money go? These same people also want to ignore the fact that when a public safety union negotiated for these benefits and better pensions, the members also gave up compensation and agreed to either a reduced salary increase or no salary increase. Can you calculate how much your city or county has saved in future salary increases by not having to compound what was given up? Where did that money go? Now the largest disappearing act of all is the money cities and counties saved when, through most of the 1990s, they did not have to make a pension payment. I repeat: They did not have to make a pension payment. That is correct. During the 1990s, most of these systems were either more than 100% funded or super funded (including the state of California), so no payments were required? They saved millions. Now ask yourself, what did they do with the money they saved? Well, they can’t answer that question either. It is just easier to blame us for all the economic woes they are facing.

Even with all the disparaging of public employees, who do you think is coming forward to help? Yes, even though the public employee is bearing the brunt of the blame in the media, the public employee is coming forward to make a difference. Public employees are clearly demonstrating that they are part of the solution, not part of the problem. For months now PORAC has been receiving information from member associations advising us of the concessions they have been making at the bargaining table to assist their employer in these rough economic times. Many of these associations were already in contracts and did not have to go back to the bargaining table, but they did. Why? Because for all the trashing public employees have received at the hands of the press and right wing advocates, they do care about working on solutions, not creating problems. In testifying against passage of Senator Hollingsworth’s bill, SB 919, we collected information from PORAC members about local bargaining and relayed this information to Senator Lou Correa, Chair of the Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee, during the hearing. The information about how public employee unions, especially public safety unions, have gone to the table to restructure benefits was compelling. These unions have given up pay raises, agreed to pay more for health care, pension costs, accepted pay cuts, and agreed to long-term contract freezes. What is the reward to local government? They can actually see their bottom line improve almost immediately. They can actually start calculating the funds they have available to bail them out of the worst economic period they have ever experienced. You cannot get these same immediate results by implementing a two-tier pension system.

This illustrates the points we have been trying to make every time we see another initiative or another piece of legislation get presented to change benefits or formulas. These issues belong at the bargaining table and can be resolved through negotiations. We do not need draconian initiatives or legislation to fix the problems. The problems can be resolved at the bargaining table. There is still one caveat here to consider: If your city or county is stating they have financial difficulties, your job is to make them prove it. Each year they file a Consolidated Annual Financial Report (CAFR). Obtaining and analyzing that report will tell you if they are in financial distress or if they are sitting on very adequate cash reserves.

Be safe.

Ron Cottingham
PORAC President