There’s a reason why they call us public service employees. We work hard to serve the public. It sounds simple, but today it seems that people forget what we really do. Our towns, cities and states simply would not work if the roads were not cleaned and the streets were not policed.
Many public service jobs are not glamorous. No one takes them to get filthy rich. People do them because they want to do honest work, make a decent living, contribute to society and have some financial security in retirement.
That is the deal between public service employees and the public they serve. Now, because of the financial shortfalls in state budgets that workers did not cause, the government does not want to honor this agreement. The public and the politicians still demand the same services, but they want to take away the very benefits that draw the workers to provide them.
Even Dwight Eisenhower, hardly a liberal, said that America functioned better when the government treated its workers fairly.
We must not forget that what is good for workers is good for America. It’s true, having quality public servants does have a cost. But that cost is well worth what the public receives in return. That’s a good deal for everyone.
Retirement Security vs. Crap Shoot
Pensions are really the backbone that allows this public service employee system to function. Municipal employees take care of the needs of the community — many for their
entire adult lives — and forgo larger wage increases in order retire with dignity.
Private sector employees have made a different choice. Historically, they have made more money and have more chance for professional advancement than public employees. Most studies show that employees in the private
sector make 15-20 percent more than people doing the same job in the public sector. There are also more types of private sector positions that pay substantially more than even the most fortunate of government workers.
Today, many private sector employees have something called a Defined Contribution (DC) plan for their retirement, the most common of which is a 401(k). In exchange for higher salaries, they have to take more responsibility to save for and invest their own retirement. Public sector workers make less, but they receive a Defined Benefit (DB) plan, which guarantees specific monthly monetary payment and secures their income
in the future.
This was not always the case. When unions represented a larger percentage of private sector workers, they also commonly benefited from the security of Defined Benefit plans.
The change to Defined Contributions has been disastrous for many workers. With the recent declines in the stock market, the values of 401(K) plans have tanked, forcing many workers to put off retirement until they recoup the losses from their retirement plans. Private sector workers also deserve the security of a DB pension plan.
It is a myth, however, that public sector pensions are overly generous. The average public sector worker receives only $19,000 a year in pension payments.
Many people — wrongly informed about these facts — believe that public sector workers should be put into DC plans. That is wrong. Many public service employees count on their modest DB pensions to be able to retire. It is our job to make the public and those in power understand this. And that is just what we are going to do.
Campaign for Truth
Local 237, along with dozens of other public service employee unions, are launching a “Truth Campaign” against this misinformation and attacks. We will win back the public debate, try to prevent layoffs and protect the most important benefits of our members and of belonging to a union.
Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg use tough language to threaten layoffs and pension cuts as if they are only numbers on paper. These actions have all too real consequences. Without good pension benefits, who will come to monitor our children in schools? How will the thousands of people who live in public housing get by without those who maintain the facilities?
Any time the economy is poor, people understandably become angry. In this case, people have been led to believe that government deficits caused by public sector pensions are the root of all their problems. In fact, public service employees solve many more problems than they ever caused.
Even in tough times, no person or politician can simply break a pact between the public and their workers that has lasted for generations. Unions are getting ready to mobilize and take our fight to the streets and the court of public opinion. That is a promise you can count on. Together, we will continue working hard and make sure that they keep up their end of the bargain.