Teamsters Local 237

Goodbye My Pension

In November of 2017, on the 7th to be precise, there will be a question on the ballot when you go to the polls to vote. And you must go to the polls to vote! The question is: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend same?” This happens every 20 years, the last time was 1997 and it was defeated.

The question sounds innocuous – what could be wrong with holding a Constitutional Convention in New York State? Answer – A whole lot

The reasons are many but I would like you to focus on the big one for public employees. In the environment in which we live now, you can’t help but notice that many people are hurting because their salaries and benefits are lagging behind.

Public employees have health care and a defined benefit pension that is protected in the State Constitution – Article 5, Sec. 7. “After July first, nineteen hundred forty, membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.” What that means is – no changes permitted to your pension.

While we have no problem if everyone enjoyed the same benefits as City and State retirees – They do not enjoy the same benefits.

Many people working in the private sector have lost their defined benefit pension – now they have a 401K to which the employer may or may not contribute.

A pension is very valuable to continue living a certain lifestyle and when you are young, you probably don’t think about a future time when your pension is important to you. That’s normal for young people, but there will come a time when it is paramount in your life. Much has been written recently about the huge number of Americans who have very little or nothing saved for their future retirement. No 401K or other savings for the vast majority of working people. It truly is a crisis.

However, we in the public sector are the envy of many because we have this great benefit and it could be threatened if there is a Constitutional Convention. The delegates to the Convention might vote to change the guarantee that is protected now. This is not so farfetched as you may think.

At a public employee conference that we attended several years ago, one attendee told us what his father-in-law said at their Thanksgiving dinner about the guy’s future retirement allowance (defined benefit pension). The father in-law was upset that his son-in-law would get it. The son-in-law brought up that his father-in-law was receiving a monthly Social Security check. I’m glad that I wasn’t invited to attend this Thanksgiving dinner. Lots of Pepto Bismol...

Why I brought this true story to your attention is for the following reason: Many folks who do not have what we have are not happy that we have the benefit of a defined benefit pension while they do not.

Who will be motivated to vote? Surely, we should be extremely motivated since we have the most to lose. However, those who do not have what we have and are really unhappy will have an equal opportunity to level the playing field so that no one has a viable pension.

There are groups of well financed individuals who are very interested in seeing a Constitutional Convention come to fruition. Their reasons are many and some are no doubt worthy but changes to the Constitution can be made by the State Legislature in 2 consecutive sessions and placed on the ballot for the voters to take action. This is the far better path and has been done successfully almost 200 times and as recently as 2013 when five constitutional amendments were approved.

Let us take action! Talk to your family members, relatives and friends, educate them; we cannot sit back. This is an extremely serious issue which we must take to heart and protect the pension that we will have worked many years to receive through our hard work.

On November 7, 2017, go to your polling place and vote “No” on the question, “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend same?”

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Oral History Project

Hercules Cornish: Caretaker J Stores Man

Herclules CornishHercules Cornish went to work for the Housing Authority as a caretaker J in 1952 and retired 24 years later as a stores worker. He died the year following this interview, which was conducted in June 1999.

Originally I was from Harlem, but when I came out of the service in 1945 my wife had moved to the Bronx, so I moved there, too. I went to work for the New York City Housing Authority in 1952.

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