Threats to STRS: How the FA Is Fighting for Your Pension

October 30, 2016

 

Threat to Your State Pension

 

This is a very real concern for full time faculty at MiraCosta and teachers across the state.

 

Attorney Bob Bezemek, a statewide leader in community college labor law whose services are retained by the FA, brought this issue to our FA leadership's attention at the recent CCCI conference*. Bezemek writes that “a recent appellate decision opens the door to substantial reductions in faculty pension and retirement benefits.” This decision came from an appellate court in Marin County. Their decision opens the door for public employers to “significantly reduce, to the verge of destruction, public employee pension and retirement benefits, based upon perceived (but not actual) fiscal necessity, before the employees retired.”

 

If, like most of us, you plan to retire with your STRS pension as your primary source of income, this ruling should concern you. It is a clear break with past decisions, reversing decades of rulings that have banned the lowering of state employee pensions except when “commensurate improvement in benefits” are provided to those employees. When the FA and other bargaining units negotiate agreements for salary and other working conditions, the promise of a stable, predictable pension impacts those negotiations. Faculty collective bargaining agents often negotiate a somewhat lower wage in comparison to private sector compensation because of the promise of additional compensation in the form of a stable, predictable pension. This ruling, however, would allow districts to lower your promised compensation years or even decades after your assigned work has been completed.

 

In response to this, the FA joined the 12 other members of the CCCI in providing unanimous support for the authoring of an Amicus letter asking the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of this decision. If the Court agrees to review the case, Bezemek will then author an Amicus brief on the subject in favor of overturning the decision and reestablishing California’s commitment to honoring promised compensation to faculty employees. The FA Exec voted not only to support the letter, but to pay a 1/13 portion of the costs of the letter (estimated at approximately $200).

 

For more about this ruling from the FA’s legal counsel, please see Bezemek’s letter. For additional reading, you can also refer to the LA Times article, "California Pension Crisis: The Ruling."

*FA is a member of the California Community College Independents (CCCI). This organization is comprised of thirteen “independent unions” from around the state. FA leadership meet each semester to see how negotiations are going around the state and get a better sense of the issues that are likely to come our way. We also receive feedback on the concerns we are facing and legal advice from labor law attorneys who attend the conference and present on issues such as faculty investigations and the rights the FA has during negotiations.  

 

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