Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The State of State Teachers’ Pension Plans By KARL RUSSELL and MARY WILLIAMS WALSH MARCH 6, 2017

As teachers across the country retire, their pensions are being subsidized by newly hired teachers to a surprising degree. Teachers’ pension plans have always rewarded long-serving veterans at the expense of short-termers. But now, as more and more plans develop shortfalls, states have been imposing cost-cutting measures, and recent research shows that the newest hires are bearing the brunt of the changes, raising questions of fairness.

The Plans Received Low Marks

The Urban Institute has graded America’s state-run pension systems on their performance in a few areas: their financial strength; how well they provide retirement security to short-term or long-term workers; the workplace incentives they offer various age groups; and whether participating branches of government are funding them properly. Grades for all types of public pensions are available on the Urban Institute’s website, where they can be filtered for individual strengths and weaknesses.
No states got an A and only six states received a B: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, New York, Oregon and Wyoming. Most states — 33 — received a C, while six got a D. The last six — Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio and Rhode Island — each received an F.
Getting an F could mean the plan offers few rewards for younger workers, is less than 60 percent funded or pays meager retirement income relative to salary, among other problems. Rhode Island improved its plan enough in 2013 to get a B on the new version, but it still has so many people in the older, failing plan that the overall grade was an F.

How Plans Encourage Teachers to Retire in Their 50s

The typical teachers’ pension plan is backloaded, meaning teachers build up benefits slowly in their early years, then speed up and earn the biggest portion just before they retire. But teachers also contribute to their plans at a steady rate, and in the early years of a teacher’s career, a person’s contributions are often worth more than the pension credits earned. If teachers stay on long enough, they will eventually hit a break-even point, where the value of the pension that has been earned is greater than what was paid for it. Few teachers are able to do this, research shows.

Going in the Wrong Direction

To save money, many states have reformed their teachers’ pension plans. In most cases, these changes have pushed the break-even point farther out into the future. In Massachusetts, they pushed it so far out that no teacher can ever earn a pension greater than the value of one’s contributions, no matter how long he or she works.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

The Future Of Worker Voice And Power by David Madland -- January 30, 2017

My goal is to provide a long-term vision of how we can address the fundamental economic and democratic challenges faced by our country, as well as to discuss some realistic steps for state and local governments to take to move us toward this vision.
Today’s economy does not work very well for most people. Wages have been stagnant for decades and inequality is near record highs. Many voters blame politicians for these problems – for doing the bidding of CEOs while leaving workers with too little power to get their fair share.  Voter anger and the politicians fortified by it have put our democracy in real trouble.
There are of numerous reforms necessary to ensure that workers have sufficient power to raise wages, reduce inequality, and make democracy work for all Americans – including those that reduce the influence of money in politics and that promote full employment.  But among the most important reforms are those that give workers a way to band together and have a strong collective voice.  Collective voice enables workers to negotiate with CEOs on a relatively even footing and to hold politicians accountable.  When workers have a strong collective voice, not only can they increase their own wages, but also improve labor standards across the economy and provide a key counterbalance to wealthy special interests, making politicians more responsive to the concerns of ordinary Americans. 
But we need new and better ways for workers to achieve that strong collective voice.  Fewer than 7 percent of workers in the private sector are members of a union – meaning that 93 percent are left out of the current system.
Current labor law has several critical problems that make it nearly impossible to join a union.  The law was designed to work in a bygone economy when most firms were vertically integrated and did all their work in-house. But as work has been increasingly outsourced and contracted out, the law has given fewer and fewer workers a real ability to negotiate for better wages and working conditions.  The law also forces workers through a tortured process that has virtually no repercussions for companies that break the rules. Most importantly, the law channels most negotiations to the firm level or below, causing unionized firms to have higher costs than their competitors.  This encourages many business owners to oppose unions and fosters conflict between workers and management. 
In a previous paper -- “The Future of Worker Voice and Power” – I laid out a broad vision for how to modernize labor law to address these failings and to build a system that works better for workers and would result in a larger economy. In this new system, most bargaining would take place above the level of the firm, at the region or industry level. This would not only help raise wages for union and non-union workers alike, but it would also provide a wage structure that boosts productivity by ensuring similar work receives similar pay and would resolve some conflicts outside of the firm, resulting in relations between workers and their managers that would be more cooperative and productive.  The modernized system would foster new kinds of workplace organizations that facilitate collaboration, such as works councils. Workers would be provided with incentives to join worker organizations, helping address the free-rider problems that plagued our old system. Finally, basic rights would be enhanced and protections increased. 
In short, under this new system, workers would have more power and their power would be channeled in more fruitful ways.
Even though achieving this full vision would require federal legislation, state and local governments could begin to take critical steps towards modernization now, since some of the most important elements of reform are not pre-empted by federal law.  Indeed, state and local governments have significant powers to affect two of the most important channels of modernization:  raising standards across entire industries or sectors, rather than just individual firms, and helping to build up worker organizations. 
State and local governments could also take a number of steps to raise wages at the industry level and support worker organizations, including using tripartite commissions, prevailing wages, improved enforcement, sectoral training, program navigation, government purchasing, licensing and permitting, and facilitating membership.  Though new legislation may be required to achieve the ideal policy, there are numerous precedents for cities and states to build upon.  Further, most policy areas allow for some executive action.  For example, in 2015 the state of New York used an existing wage board to raise wages for fast food workers to $15 dollars an hour – helping raise wages across a sector in a manner similar to tripartite, industry-wide bargaining.
With the current makeup of the federal government, national efforts will sadly be focused on defending workers’ rights instead of passing national legislation to modernize labor law.  Which is why state and local governments have an obligation to lead the way toward strengthening worker voice and power.  

Trayvon Martin's death sparked a movement that lives on five years later By Darran Simon, CNN

(CNN)Five years ago, the world learned of Trayvon Martin and how he died.
The African-American teenager's death at the hands of a neighborhood watch volunteer spurred a movement and gave rise to a rallying cry that resonates with many today: "#BlackLivesMatter."
Martin, 17, was carrying iced tea and candy as he walked from a convenience store to the home of his father's fiancee in Sanford, Florida. Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman spotted the teenager and called 911 to report "a suspicious person" in his neighborhood."
A scuffle broke out, but there were no direct witnesses. Moments later, neighbors reported hearing gunfire.
Zimmerman claimed Martin hit him, knocking him to the pavement. Zimmerman contends that he took out his gun and shot Martin in self-defense. Critics said Zimmerman was unjustified in confronting the unarmed teenager, particularly since Zimmerman disregarded a police dispatcher's advice to stop following Martin.
In July 2013, Zimmerman was acquitted of a second degree murder charge, igniting protests.
The image of Martin wearing a hoodie became iconic. Professional athletes donned hoodies, and protestors repeated the mantra: "I am Trayvon Martin" to express solidarity and outrage.
Martin's death inspired then-President Barack Obama to deliver a heartfelt message to Martin's parents, saying, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
Writer, producer and director Ava DuVernay took a moment Sunday to remember Trayvon Martin before heading to the Academy Awards.
"Our hoodies are still up and the movement is still strong," she wrote on Twitter.
upporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a "Million Hoodie March" in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City.
After Zimmerman was acquitted, three activists -- Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors -- created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in protest.
Since then, the deaths of several African-Americans at the hands of police kept the "Black Lives Matter" movement in the public eye.

Here are some of the cases that led to protests, and kept alive the national conversation about the deaths of black Americans, police conduct, and what critics say is inequality in the justice system.

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So far, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is just what her critics feared By Valerie Strauss

Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos has been U.S. education secretary for only a few weeks, but already she has shown herself to be exactly what her critics feared. In her brief time running the Education Department she has (among other things):
*insulted teachers at a middle school
*bashed protesters, saying they are “hostile” to change and new ideas
*said she would be fine if the department she runs is shut down
*complained that critics want “to make my life a living hell
*did not participate in the first Twitter chat her department had for teachers on Feb. 21
*suggested schools should be able to compensate for troubles children have at home, such as absent fathers
*had U.S. marshals protect her after protesters blocked her entrance to a D.C. school door
*made a confusing statement about the Common Core State Standards
*made crystal clear that a top priority will be pushing for alternatives to traditional public schools, otherwise known as “school choice.”
And, according to this Washington Post story, while she personally opposed the Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama administration’s federal guidance protecting the right of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, she did not say so publicly and was unable to persuade them to leave the guidance in place. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), issued a statement saying that she hoped DeVos “stands strong” and doesn’t “cave to pressure,” but the New York Times reported that she was given the choice by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go along with the move or resign — and she “relented.” After the rollback, she said the issue was best left to states and local school districts.
DeVos’s boss, President Trump, has come to her defense, saying that she has been unfairly attacked and that she will do a great job as education secretary.

And for those who support her prioritizing of school choice, statements such as this, which she gave to Axios, are reassuring: “I expect there will be more public charter schools. I expect there will be more private schools. I expect there will be more virtual schools. I expect there will be more schools of any kind that haven’t even been invented yet.”
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