Isaiah J. Poole
September 26, 2013
Conservative activists are manufacturing the perception of a public pension crisis in order to both slash modest retiree benefits and preserve expensive corporate subsidies and tax breaks.
|News stories around the country have trumpeted a public pension “crisis” in various states, featuring elected officials who insist that these crises justify slashing the retirement benefits of public employees.What these stories usually don’t say is that conservative activists are manufacturing the perception of a public pension crisis in order to both slash modest retiree benefits and preserve expensive corporate subsidies and tax breaks.
Leading this effort is the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Sector Retirement Systems Project and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Their role in ginning up the sense of crisis, and in pushing state legislatures to dismantle pension systems that have served workers well for decades and could serve them well for decades more, is exposed in an Institute for America’s Future report released today, “The Plot Against Pensions.”
“This is the story not merely of two nonprofits, nor merely of one set of economic issues; it is a microcosmic tale of how, in the Citizens United age, politically motivated billionaires can quietly implement an ideological agenda in local communities across the country,” the report states.
- Using research widely accepted by economists who favor the TPP and similar agreements, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has calculated that the very small potential economic gains from the TPP projected by these economists would be outweighed, for the vast majority of U.S. wage and salary earners, by losses due to increasing inequality caused by increased trade. Therefore, the vast majority of employees in the U.S. would suffer a net loss from the agreement.
- The potential economic gains from TPP amount to a rounding error, according to research from the Peterson Institute of International Economics, which is cited by proponents of the TPP. This research projects that the TPP would generate only a 0.13 percent increase in GDP by 2025, about one hundredth of a percent of increased national income per year.
- Taking into account the downward pressure on wages caused by so-called “free trade” agreements, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has calculated that the median U.S. worker’s wages could drop by 0.14 to 0.72 percent by 2025 if the TPP is implemented.
- According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the long-term loss of GDP, in 2020, from the ongoing failure to restore full employment in the U.S., is 25 times the size of the potential gains from the trade agreement. The potential gains to GDP from the TPP are therefore very small as compared with other policy alternatives.
- For the last twenty-five years income inequality has grown enormously while the wages of the typical (median) worker have stagnated, in part as a result of the free trade agreements that the U.S. has signed. Today the U.S. has a higher rate of income inequality than other high-income countries. The U.S. inequality gap is set to increase even more if the TPP is passed.
On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to.
On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received another indignity — a letter from Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans’ Court.
For a proud professional like Margaret Mary, this was the last straw; she was mortified. She begged me to call Adult Protective Services and tell them to leave her alone, that she could take care of herself and did not need their help. I agreed to. Sadly, a couple of hours later, she was found on her front lawn, unconscious from a heart attack. She never regained consciousness.
Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, “She was a professor?” I said yes. The caseworker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.
Of course, what the caseworker didn’t understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.
Rep. Rob Matzie helps taxpayers save $5 million
HARRISBURG, Sept. 12 – State Rep. Rob Matzie, D-Beaver/Allegheny, is pleased that Treasurer Rob McCord has continued to deny payment on $3.4 million worth of invoices for a supposedly no-cost contract with Pennsylvania Interactive LLC., but he still has concerns over privacy implications, possible fees assessed to the public and the no-bid nature of the contract.
In April, Matzie wrote to state Treasurer Rob McCord asking him to halt the payments requested by the company. NICUSA, which is the parent company of Pennsylvania Interactive LLC, which has since amended its Securities and Exchange Commission filings to remove $5.1 million in estimated revenue generated from the state and writing off amounts due from the commonwealth.
“Pennsylvania taxpayers should be pleased that more than $5 million was not diverted from the Department of Transportation when our roads and bridges need repair,” Matzie said. “The company’s recent SEC filings show they have concerns about the contract. How often does a government contractor turn down an offer to be paid millions of dollars if it actually believes it is legally owed the money?”
The Corbett administration awarded a no-bid contract last year to the company for the renovation and management of Pennsylvania’s state websites. Despite the millions of dollars invoiced by the company, the contract was supposed to use a self-funding model that would cost the state nothing.
AFL-CIO resolves to organize the South
By Joe Atkins, Labor South
Delegates at the 2013 convention of the AFL-CIO in Los Angeles this week adopted a a resolution proposed by the Savannah (Ga.) Regional Central Council “to develop a Southern organizing strategy” as “one of its top priorities” and one that will “include a long-term commitment to organize the South.”
Resolution 26 decries the fact that the U.S. labor movement “has never successfully developed a concerted and coordinated effort to organize workers in the 11 Southern states” of the Southern Region, thus “allowing the most conservative political forces in the South to operate without effectively being challenged by organized workers.”
The South today is “a major player in the new global economy,” the resolution says, “and has become a haven for US manufacturing, foreign investments and finance capital, and because of this reemergence is now playing an integral role in shaping US labor and social policies.”
Yet “corporations in the South have not only exploited Southern workers but have also been responsible for the negative environmental impact on many working class families, especially the African American, Latino, Native American, Asian and poor white communities.”
Conservative Southern politicians have okayed “billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives” to corporations “at the expense of these struggling communities.”
LOS ANGELES–Having banged its head against a wall for years with nothing to show for it but a headache, the American labor movement is devising a plan to bypass the wall altogether. During its quadrennial convention here this week, the AFL-CIO has acknowledged that the laws protecting employees who seek to join a union have been rendered so ineffectual that labor must come up with new ways to advance workers’ interests
“We are going to expand the idea of collective bargaining,” said Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco AFL-CIO. “You can have collective bargaining through legislation. You can have collective bargaining through ballot measures.”