Moving out the pension-cutters

October 10, 2018

Cindy Klumb reports from Kentucky on a rally against cuts to the state pension fund.

A CARAVAN of 14 U-Haul trucks, led by an International Brotherhood of Teamsters-driven semitruck, rolled through the streets of Frankfort, Kentucky, to the state Capitol steps on October 5, followed by a rally in front of the Capitol to protest pension “reform.”

The “Vote ’em out, move ’em out” action was organized by the Jefferson County Association of Educational Support Personnel (JCAESP)-AFSCME Local 4011, Kentucky 120 United, the Kentucky Public Pension Coalition and the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA).

The rally was a protest against the attempt by the state legislature in the middle of the night last March to sneak through pension legislation attached to State Bill 151, a “waste management” bill. The attached amendment would have placed new state employees and teachers in a new pension plan.

The current state pension plan works like Social Security. It depends on not just the contribution current retirees made while they were active employees, but on the contributions of current as well as future employees.

Protesters drive to the Kentucky state Capitol to "move out" legislators voting for pension cuts
Protesters drive to the Kentucky state Capitol to "move out" legislators voting for pension cuts (@ForwardKy | Twitter)

Taking new employees out of this plan would have led to the eventual collapse of the state retirement fund, unless the state severely cut current and future retirees’ pensions. Since Kentucky teachers and state employees do not pay into Social Security system and do not receive Social Security retirement benefits, the preservation of the state pension fund is key.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear sued to block the plan, and a judge declared the bill unconstitutional in June. Now, teachers and state employees are fighting to keep a new version of the legislation from being passed.

THE MESSAGE of the rally was “We are going to remember in November how you voted.”

Retired teacher Sue Ellen Caldwell showed her first paycheck from 1971with a deduction for “retirement” — that deduction was on every check she received over her years of teaching. Her message to Gov. Matt Bevin and the legislature was: “I paid for my retirement, and it belongs to me, not the state.”

Lee Collins a 26-year member of the Kentucky Education Association, thanked Bevin for “waking the sleeping giant” and reminded the crowd that their pensions “are not a promise, but a contract.”

Another teacher, Christina Trosperg, who lives in coal country, asked everyone to go home and tell their families and friends what “right to work” really means. She also implored the crowd to remind people about House Bill 2, which cut benefits for those afflicted with black lung disease, and pointed out the devastating impact these cuts will have on some communities.

Another speaker, Katie Hancock, a nonunion state employee, said legislators are “out of touch with our lives,” and added, “We are Kentucky, and the state cannot function without us.

Sue Foster, the head of the JCTA, said, “They want to cut [teachers’] pensions and benefits, but still hold us accountable for student test scores.”

She went on to say that the Louisville Metro government is charged for the county retirement system, preventing increases in funding for local public schools. She ended with the message that “Halloween ends on October 31” and “on November 6th...we are sending a lot of clowns home.”

After the election, protesters pledged to come back to the Capitol to help pack up and “move out” those politicians who continue to push to gut the pension fund.

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