Judge Tells Christie: Obey the Law and Fund Pensions

 A New Jersey Superior Court Judge has taken Gov. Chris Christie to task in a ruling that forces him to contribute his share to the New Jersey state pension system, just as public workers have been doing all along.

Judge Mary Jacobson ruled earlier this week in favor of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO and 16 unions who sued Christie for violating his own 2011 pension reform law by intentionally shorting the system. The judge ordered Christie to make a $1.6 billion payment to the pension system this year.

Public-sector workers accepted steep increases in their health care and pension costs in 2011 in exchange for a promise that the state would start paying what it owed. Retirees gave up cost of living adjustments in exchange for the security of knowing their benefits would continue to be there. Public workers have never skipped their contribution. The governor is the only one who has not lived up to the deal. It’s as if he is intentionally trying to bankrupt the system to force public workers into 401(k)s.

Christie’s lawyers argued that the 2011 law—which the governor initiated, promoted and signed – was unconstitutional. It was an argument that bewildered virtually everyone, including the judge, and proved beyond doubt that Christie has no credibility on the issue.

Now he’s at it again. In an otherwise empty budget address, the governor proposed … wait for it … putting the squeeze on public worker benefits again. As New Jerseyans can clearly see, the governor has been blinded by his own political ambitions and hasn’t been acting in the state’s best interest for a very long time. Christie touted the 2011 pension reform law as a landmark achievement that would ultimately save the state pension system. Instead of blaming public workers for a problem they didn’t create, we’re asking that the governor live up to the law he signed and fully fund pensions.

Charles Wowkanech is the president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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White House Moves to Close Retirement Advice Loophole

The Obama administration today took the first step to close a loophole in the rules that govern Wall Street brokers and financial firms that provide retirement investment advice. That loophole can drain away thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars of hard-earned savings from a single retirement account.

The “Retirement Advice Loophole“ allows Wall Street brokers and financial firms with major conflicts of interest to provide investment advice that serves their own interests instead of what’s best for their clients. Obama ordered the U.S. Department of Labor to submit a proposed rule to strengthen financial advisers’ fiduciary responsibilities and crack down on these practices.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the new rules are “long overdue” and a “good first step.” Under current rules, he said, Wall Street firms can “create and distribute investment products to elevate a financial adviser’s paycheck over the best interests of workers and retirees.”

For example, they can sell financial products that pay large commissions but hurt their clients with unnecessary fees, poor returns or excessive risks. Millions of Americans are affected by this loophole every year without even knowing it, and it is draining away their retirement savings.

Right now, some advisers are required to put their customers’ interests first while others are not—and it is often extremely difficult for workers and retirees to know which type of adviser they are dealing with.

“Americans are worried about having a secure retirement, especially as they face increasingly complicated choices about how to save and invest their hard-earned dollars,” said Trumka.

When they turn to professional financial advisers to help navigate their complex choices, they should be able to have confidence that the advice they get is in their best interest—and not driven by sales commissions and high fees that can deplete their retirement accounts like a slow leak in a tire.

Of course, Wall Street and the financial industry are adamantly opposed to reforming the rules. Two years ago, they lobbied hard for a House bill aimed at derailing any new Labor Department investment advice rule, and surely they will be spending big money to do the same thing in 2015.

Read Trumka’s full statement here and be sure to visit SaveOurRetirement.com to learn more and find out how you can help close the “Retirement Advice Loophole.”

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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First Target for House Republicans? Cutting Social Security

NCPSSM photo

On the very first day that the new larger House Republican majority got to work, it made a move that could mean some 11 million people who receive Social Security disability benefits will see their lifeline benefits cut by 20% in 2016—or even cuts to Social Security retirement benefits for everyone.

No, Republicans didn’t pass a bill or hold a lengthy debate on something so important. Instead, buried in a package of rule changes, they included a provision that the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) says:

would allow a 20% benefit cut for millions of disabled Americans unless there are broader Social Security benefit cuts or tax increases improving the solvency of the combined trust funds.

Republicans didn’t call it a Social Security cut. They just said they were changing the rules on what is known as reallocation, i.e., the routine transfer of funds between the Social Security retirement trust fund and the disability program.

Congress has approved those transfers 11 times in the past, but now, under the changes Republicans approved Tuesday, any reallocation must also “improve the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds.” That, say experts, means either new revenue or benefit cuts. Dylan Scott at Talking Points Memowrites:

New revenues are highly unlikely to be approved by the deeply tax-averse Republican-led Congress, leaving benefit cuts as the obvious alternative.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) slammed the House Republican action and said in a statement:

Reallocation has never been controversial, but detractors working to privatize Social Security will do anything to manufacture a crisis out of a routine administrative function. Reallocation is a routine housekeeping matter that has been used 11 times, including four times under Ronald Reagan. Modest reallocation of payroll taxes would ensure solvency of both trust funds until 2033. But if House Republicans block reallocation, insurance for disabled Americans, veterans and children could face severe cuts once the trust fund is exhausted in 2016.

The Alliance for Retired Americans called the House action:

A direct attack on seniors, disabled Americans and the Social Security trust fund…[and] a complete disregard for keeping the promise to hardworking Americans who have contributed to Social Security.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Still Without a Contract, Golden Gate Ferry Captains Hold One-Day Strike

Golden Gate Bridge District photo via Facebook

The ferryboat captains—members of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA)—who operate San Francisco’s commuter ferries between Sausalito, Larkspur and the city are holding a one-day unfair labor practice strike today. The action follows another round of negotiations with the Golden Gate Bridge District that failed to reach a settlement.

MEBA is a member of the Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition, and the 450 workers in the unions that make up the coalition have been in negotiations since April and working without a contract since July 1.

The ferry captains announced the strike early Thursday to give commuters time to plan alternate transportation.  Ferryboat captain Rob Barely said:

Like many of my co-workers, going on strike is the last thing I want to do. However the district, in its continuing failure to negotiate with us on good faith, has left us with little choice.

On Wednesday, MEBA filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employees Relations Board against the district.

On Sept. 16, members of Machinists (IAM) Local 1414 held a one-day unfair labor practice strike over retiree health care proposals.

In addition to the retiree health care issue, management has proposed a three-year contract that would increase the cost of employees’ health care premiums, negating a minimal wage increase.  Alex Tonisson, co-chair of the coalition, said one health care proposal could leave workers liable for $12,000 a year in health care costs.

In August, the workers authorized a strike if a settlement could not be reached. Golden Gate Bridge workers include ferry deckhands and captains, bus servicers and mechanics, bridge ironworkers and inspectors and construction trades workers.

The Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition includes the following unions: International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 21, the Inlandboatmen’s Union-ILWU (IBU-ILWU), Teamsters locals 665 and 856, Machinists (IAM) Local 1414, Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) (Captains), Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 6, Laborers (LIUNA), Operating Engineers (IUOE), Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA), Carpenters and Plasterers and Cement Masons (OPCMIA).

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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7 Reasons Mark Begich Is a Candidate Who Cares About Working Families

Photo courtesy Bernard Pollack on Flickr

It’s an election year, and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote for candidates who support policies that protect or expand our rights, raise wages and work for an economy that benefits everyone, not just the wealthy few. We’re going to focus our spotlight on some of the key candidates who care about working families, and one of those candidates is Mark Begich, who is running for U.S. Senate in Alaska.

1. Begich wants to continue growing the Alaska economy and create more good jobs by investing in infrastructure. Begich said, “My top priority is growing Alaska’s economy by creating good jobs right now for Alaskans and investing in critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports and harbors to help create jobs. I secured more than $1 billion to build and fix Alaska’s infrastructure, to create new jobs and expand our economy.”

2. He voted to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. [S. 2223, Vote 117, 4/30/14]

3. He also voted for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill to ensure that working women receive equal pay for equal work. [S. 2199, Vote 103, 4/9/14]

4. He has consistently defended the rights of working families and earned a lifetime AFL-CIO voting record of 98% from his tenure in Congress.

5. He has worked to bring jobs back home from overseas and to penalize businesses that outsource America’s jobs. [S. 3816, Vote 242, 9/23/10]

6. While many in Congress have called for cuts to programs like Social Security, Begich supports increasing benefits. “When you tell seniors, ‘We want to make sure your dollars rise as your costs do,’ there is automatic excitement because they recognize we understand what they’re going through….Are we for or against helping seniors have a dignified life in their later years? I’m for that.” [The Washington Post, 3/24/14]

7. As a member of both the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, he has pushed for increased funding for the Veterans Affairs (VA) and for innovative programs to provide better access to care and to attract more qualified individuals to work in VA health facilities across the nation. “There are few more important responsibilities we have as a nation than to give proper care to those who have sacrificed so much for us. Since day one in the Senate, I have been fighting to make sure Alaska’s veterans—especially those off the road system in rural villages—receive adequate health care. We have made incredible progress. But we are not done and we cannot ignore the devastating and unacceptable situation happening at VA centers in the rest of the country. Alaska’s first‐in‐the‐nation system is working and it should serve as a model for the rest of the country.” [Alaska Business Monthly, 5/29/14]

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Good News for All Americans in Social Security, Medicare Reports

Photo via the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

The annual reports from the Social Security and Medicare Trustees released today “have good news for all Americans,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Social Security and Medicare will be there for us and our families if elected leaders listen to the American people and reject calls to cut benefits. Instead of undermining these crucial programs, we must build on their success and adopt measures to strengthen and expand them.

Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said the most important lesson from the Social Security report “is that Social Security has a large and growing surplus. Today’s report projects Social Security’s cumulative surplus to be roughly $2.8 trillion in 2014, growing to about $2.9 trillion around 2020.

Trumka noted that while “America’s most important retirement program” will remain strong for many more years to come:

It has become increasingly clear, however, that strengthening Social Security for the future must include improvements in benefits. Social Security remains the sole retirement income plan that is broadly available and that Americans can count on to provide secure lifetime benefits.

The Medicare report, Fiesta said, “reminds us once again that the Affordable Care Act is controlling health care costs.” He said:

It is great news that the life of the Medicare Trust Fund has been extended by another four years to 2030. Attempts to repeal health care reform would only undo the progress we have made in controlling health care costs.

The Social Security Trustees reported once again that the Disability Trust Fund can pay full benefits until 2016, with enough revenue after that time to cover about 80% of promised benefits. Trumka said:

Congress should act soon to ensure disabled workers and their families will continue to receive the benefits they have earned.  This can be done by allocating a larger share of current payroll tax contributions to the Disability program, as has been done many times before. Congress should reject calls to misuse this opportunity to undermine the sole source of disability income protection that is working well for America’s families.

Fiesta warned:

Current and future retirees must be wary of those politicians who will use today’s Social Security and Medicare Trustees reports as political cover for radical changes that would put seniors, the disabled and the families of deceased workers at risk.

Read Trumka’s full statement here and Fiesta’s here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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13 Things You Need to Know About Social Security Disability as Republicans Try to Dismantle It

Earlier today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) spoke at a Center for American Progress (CAP) event about Republican attempts to use Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as a way to cut and undercut the whole Social Security system. Rather than sticking with the conventional wisdom that Republicans, the media and even some Democrats cling to, Brown argues that what we should be doing now is not just protecting Social Security and SSDI, we should be expanding the programs.

Here are 13 important facts about SSDI you need to know to counter the right-wing spin:

1. SSDI provides protection for 90% of America’s workers and their families if a life-changing disability or illness stops them from being able to work and bring in enough money.

2. SSDI pays modest benefits, averaging just $1,140 per month, less than most workers make before they qualify for the program.

3. For 80% of beneficiaries, SSDI is the primary or only source of income, and it provides a drastic increase in the quality of life of recipients who might otherwise live in poverty.

4. The eligibility criteria for SSDI are among the strictest in the world and fewer than 40% of applicants are approved.

5. Nearly 20% of beneficiaries die within five years of first obtaining benefits.

6. Nearly 9 million workers with disabilities receive SSDI benefits, including more than 1 million veterans. More than 150,000 spouses and nearly 2 million children also receive benefits.

7. Beneficiaries pay into SSDI as a portion of their Social Security payroll tax. The current tax rate is 6.2% on the first $117,000 of earnings a worker makes.  5.3% goes to the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI), the rest goes to the SSDI Trust Fund.

8. Only one-third of private-sector workers has employer-provided long-term disability insurance, and most of those plans often provide less than SSDI. Only 7% of workers who make $12 per hour or less have such insurance. Most private long-term disability insurance plans are too costly for most workers.

9. Most beneficiaries are in their 50s and 60s, with the average age being 53.

10. Fewer than 4% of beneficiaries earned more than $10,000 during the year.

11. The United States ranks 30 out of 34 OECD member countries in terms of replacement benefit payouts for workers with disabilities.

12. A temporary reallocation of how the 6.2% payroll tax is divided between SSDI and OASI would ensure that both trust funds would be able to remain fully solvent until 2033 and would alleviate the shortage in SSDI funds caused by demographic trends.

13. Beneficiaries face a wide range of significant disabilities, with many having multiple impairments, which include:

  • 31.8% have a “primary diagnosis” of a mental impairment, including 4.2% with intellectual disabilities and 27.6% with other types of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.
  • 29.8% have a musculoskeletal or connective tissue disorder.
  • 8.7% have a cardiovascular condition such as chronic heart failure.
  • 9.3% have a disorder of the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, or a sensory impairment such as deafness or blindness.
  • 20.4% include workers living with cancers; infectious diseases; injuries; genitourinary impairments such as end stage renal disease; congenital disorders; metabolic and endocrine diseases such as diabetes; diseases of the respiratory system; and diseases of other body systems

Watch the entire event with Sen. Brown and a distinguished panel of experts on Social Security and SSDI. You also can read CAP’s full report on SSDI.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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One Year Ago. It’s A Memory We’re Not Fond Of.

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It’s not a memory I’m fond of.

But one year ago, I remember watching news reports as the governor of my home state, Rick Snyder, emerged from police barricades after signing the so-called “right to work” bill into law in Michigan.

The whole thing was like a bad dream. Gov. Snyder had said for years that so-called “right to work” — restrictions on union dues aimed at weakening workers’ voices at the workplace — was not on his agenda. Then on December 6, 2012, he changed course, and called on the legislature to pass “right to work.”

With lightning speed, the Republican-controlled legislature went to work. There were no committee hearings, highly unusual for a major bill like this. The bill text was almost identical to an ALEC model bill, but that didn’t seem to faze the legislators.

On December 11, as more than 12,000 Michigan workers raged outside the state house, the bills for both public and private sector workers are passed despite bipartisan opposition, and Gov. Snyder had signed them into law by evening.

That was not a fun day.

After that fight, Working America pledged to continue the fight in Michigan and we have.

Will you stand with us to continue fighting into 2014?

December 11, 2012 was a rough day. But we know what it takes to win in Michigan: hold leaders accountable for their votes, mobilize a team of activists in communities across the state and support candidates that stand with working families.

The assault on my home state hasn’t stopped there. Gov. Snyder, the Republican-controlled legislature, and emergency managers like Detroit’s Kevyn Orr continue to impose a narrow, corporate-friendly agenda on Michigan without regard to the lives and livelihoods of Michigan’s working families.

With your help, we can fight back against the extreme agenda that Gov. Snyder has pushed through and make Michigan the state we all know and love again.

We’ve seen a lot of things we value come under attack in Michigan lately, but we don’t have to stand for it. With your help, Working America can make a difference in Michigan. Help us fight back now.

We really can’t do this without you.

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Thanks, Justin Timberlake

Thanks to a new union contract, dancers in Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience World Tour will be covered by a SAG-AFTRA Touring Agreement where performer earnings count toward pension and health benefits eligibility. The deal also provides touring companies with improved budget flexibility through direct negotiations with performers.

SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard applauded Timberlake and the SAG-AFTRA dancers who worked to unionize the 20/20 Experience tour.

“This is a wonderful result for SAG-AFTRA members and Justin Timberlake. Justin was very open to signing the agreement and personally making sure the deal got done,” Howard said. “As a leading recording artist and actor, Justin’s support for his fellow SAG-AFTRA members in unionizing his tour was a key element in concluding this agreement. I thank him for taking the lead.”

This is the first time that member performers have successfully organized dancers employed on a specific tour under the SAG-AFTRA Touring Agreement. The agreement was previously utilized to cover touring back-up singers for James Taylor, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Blues Traveler, Josh Groban and Jefferson Starship.

Dana Wilson, a dancer for Timberlake, tweeted about the history-making agreement:

Lindsay Richardson, another dancer with Timberlake, posted her thoughts on Instagram:

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Tea Party Ballot Measure Absolutely Crushed by Ohio Voters

An overhaul of Cincinnati’s pension system backed by the Tea Party was thoroughly crushed on Tuesday. Cincinnati voters rejected the charter amendment, known as Issue 4, by a 57-point margin.

Issue 4 was placed on the ballot by a private group known as the Cincinnati for Pension Reform Committee. It would have required the city to pay off its $872 million unfunded liability in the current pension system within 10 years, or find cost savings or new revenue elsewhere to make up the difference.

Making up that huge gap, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, is nearly impossible in 10 years. That’s the point: Issue 4 was a barely concealed attempt to force cuts to public services in Cincinnati, and generally pit the city’s citizens against the workers who make it run.

The city is already taking steps to address the $872 million liability in a number of ways–and as with most cities, the public workers themselves are bearing the brunt. Issue 4 would have put those changes on steroids, and would have lead to either tax increases or cuts to public safety and city services: closed firehouses, slower emergency response times, and staffing shortages when we need help the most.

It’s no wonder then that opposing Issue 4 united unlikely allies: the Chamber of Commerce, AFSCME, firefighters, and the editorial board of the right-leaning Cincinnati Enquirer. “Today’s vote will be heard beyond Cincinnati and sends a message for those on the ideological extremes who think it is ok to impose their agenda on an entire city,” said Peter Linden of AFSCME Ohio Council 8, “Had this passed, outside money and political extremists would have cost Cincinnati taxpayers more money, with less services.”

It’s been two years since Ohio voters of all political stripes overturned Gov. John Kasich’s Senate Bill 5, which stripped collective bargaining from over 300,000 public workers. It’s been one year since Ohio voters chose pro-worker Senator Sherrod Brown over the Tea Party-affiliated Josh Mandel. Since that time, the effort to get a so-called “right to work” on the 2014 Ohio ballot has faltered, collecting less than a third of the signatures needed in 20 months.

It’s time that the corporate-backed anti-worker forces in Ohio get it through their heads that Ohioans are interested in more jobs and a stronger economy; not fewer rights at work, fewer public services, and attacks on the workers who are already making the most sacrifices.

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