Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
All Hands on Deck: Fighting for Our Pensions
As I write this month’s message, it appears that Governor Jerry Brown’s commitment to public safety isn’t what it used to be. He recently filed a petition that moves well beyond his 2013 pension reform package. This latest move seemingly challenges the “California Rule” while attempting to make the case for the state government abdicating the promises made to its public employees.
Let’s not forget that it was the Governor himself who sold his reforms with the argument that if public employees didn’t contribute more to fund our benefits, modify them for future employees and eliminate key benefit enhancements, the public would impose draconian changes themselves, much to our detriment. Stakeholders came to the table. We debated the extent and level of the pain that past, present and future employees could withstand. And in the end, we helped conceive the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 (PEPRA). Governor Brown signed the bill. That signature seemed to end his quest for changes to public worker benefits. While future employees would find themselves working for a slightly lower benefit over a longer period of time with more skin in the game (that is, greater employee contributions), the concessions maintained a promise to current and past employees. It protected what they had earned.
Since then, a lot has happened. The anticipated devastation of the Friedrichs case never occurred, due to a shorthanded U.S. Supreme Court. But the issue has now refocused public employees on the case of Janus vs. AFSCME, which will be heard by a nine-member Supreme Court and most likely will determine the legality of mandatory union fees. As we anticipated in Friedrichs, the Janus case is expected to be the Achilles heel of public sector union funding, given the conservative anti-union majority on the bench today.
Word has also come that former San Jose mayor Chuck Reed is, once again, openly making his case for another anti-public employee pension reform campaign. Reed is apparently arguing that the expected court decision (a loss for the unions) would be the ideal opportunity to strike — since it would be much tougher for unions to collect political action money from members to fight back. None of this should surprise you. We’ve known it was coming. The only question has been when.
Since the start of the year, leadership in PORAC has been discussing these possibilities. While we did have a little time to breathe, we understood that we would need to take a more active role in funding our fight. We’ve always known that a serious campaign fund will require sacrifice on our part, especially if we hope to contribute equally with our labor partners in a fight that we’ll stand shoulder to shoulder in.
We’ve paid close attention and done well to stay actively involved in Californians for Retirement Security (CRS). And over the last four years, we’ve amassed a small, dedicated pot of money to seed the campaign that will be aggressively waged on your behalf. One dollar in 2014. Two dollars in 2015 and 2016. Though voluntary, it was a good start. But that’s all it is… a start.
This time, it will be different. Our efforts must be more structured and our resolve more unified. We must be ready for the worst. That’s why, at the Conference of Members last month, the delegates overwhelmingly passed a $2 per capita dues increase, intended to continue until at least 2019. The dues collected in this assessment will be specifically allocated to protect and defend members’ pensions impacted by any California pension reform initiative. Although similar, this assessment also differs from the last, in that as it will run for at least two years and will be mandatory for all, with member associations being permitted to make a lump sum payment, if they choose, rather than absorb the increase in monthly dues.
The Board of Directors understands this increase may be difficult for members of your association. But when you consider what is at stake here, $24 per member per year is a small price to pay when it comes to holding onto what we were promised way back when we took this job. It also demonstrates our solidarity and loyalty to each other, and sends the message that we will bring an aggressive fight to the ballot box, irrespective of whether the people we once called friends try to undermine us.
PORAC will continue to be on the frontline of this battle, keeping you informed and up to date on the key issues facing our profession. Be sure to stay connected to porac.org and use the new PORAC app. Please keep in contact with your region and chapter representatives to ensure that you aren’t caught off guard about this critical issue. And if you have questions or concerns, seek out your local leadership, attend a chapter meeting and stay informed to get the facts.
Thank you for your membership. Have fun and stay safe!