As public sector workers, our pensions are our most important asset. They are more than just money and investments. They’re our shared life savings. They are not generous gifts from our employers, but deferred compensation that we have bargained for over decades. They signify dignity and freedom in retirement.
As such, our pensions are critical to the system of public sector work. We serve our communities for many years, doing hard and necessary work, and we receive fair, though modest, wages. The pensions we have earned allow us to later retire with some financial security in our lives as we grow older. Without a strong and secure pension system, public sector work loses much of its value.
And yet our pubic pensions have increasingly come under attack in recent years, with much of the criticism based on false information or politically motivated lies. Some say they are too generous and are responsible for large budget deficits, when in fact these are gross distortions of the truth. Many labor leaders, including myself, have pushed back against these falsehoods, championing the pension system for the critical institution that it is.
We now face a new, but equally dangerous threat to the safety of our pensions, and it’s coming from an unexpected source. It threatens not only the health of our pensions but our very ability to control them. We must stop this threat at all costs.
A recent plan proposed by the mayor and New York City Comptroller John Liu would strip us of the authority to oversee the investments of our own pension fund. The plan would take away one of our most important responsibilities and give it to a consolidated central board where our opinions surely will not be heard.
It would also hand over more power to invest those funds to a small group of financial industry advisors who will have greatly expanded capacity to do whatever they want. That sounds much too similar to the backroom Wall Street deals that brought down our economy and diminished our pension funds in the first place.
It is essential that we have a say in how our pension fund is run and invested. We are the ones who have contributed money to the system and have accepted lower wages to ensure the funding for employer contributions. With so much at stake, it is imperative that we have input into how our money is invested, managed and distributed.
John Liu has often called himself a friend of unions, but this move will ultimately hurt New York City public workers. For the thousands of civilian workers that make up a large part of Local 237, and so many other union workers, losing our say in how our funds are run could have devastating consequences. We are being asked to entrust our retirement security to the very people who created the Great Recession. It would be foolish for unions to hand over their authority to Wall Street types who would personally benefit from risky investments.
Too many people — both in the city and around the country — are blaming public sector workers for the difficult economy and tight government budgets. The press makes us seem selfish and irresponsible, when the truth is we always strive to be fair. If it hadn’t been for public sector unions in 1975, the city would have gone broke. The solution to improving the pension system lies in cooperating with our unions and not taking authority away from them.
It’s our money, not anyone else’s. We earned it with our own blood and sweat. This plan is taking away our authority to control it, and therefore our ability to direct our own destinies. The issue is greater than any individual contract or grievance, and as president and a pension trustee, I have made it a top priority.