|Wisconsin Legislative Council 11|
Nothing New in Corporate Attacks on Pensions
“It’s no surprise that wealthy interests are pumping out propaganda to erode support for pension plans relied on by lower-wage workers,” said Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24. “What’s disappointing is that major media outlets give this propaganda great play, while burying news that paints Wisconsin’s pension system in a positive light,” Beil said.
The well-respected Pew Center on the States recently took a critical look at pension systems across the nation. While its study found problems in many states, the Wisconsin Retirement System was rated a top performer. "Wisconsin is a national leader in managing its long-term liabilities for both pensions and retiree health care and other benefits,” the report’s authors write. This great news was ignored or barely mentioned by most of the media.
In contrast, the latest public employee bashing from the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute got big coverage in the state’s largest newspaper. Its “shocking” premise is that some public employees receive better retirement benefits than some in the private sector.
This isn’t news. Public employees tend to be paid less than people doing similar work in the private sector. Public employees have traditionally taken lower wages today in exchange for better retirement security tomorrow.
This helps taxpayers because public employers save money by contributing to retirement funds instead of paying higher salaries because, unlike wages, retirement contributions aren’t subject to federal Social Security taxes. Workers who have dignity in retirement also are in a better position to contribute to their communities in retirement instead of becoming a burden.
“This is a trust between workers and the people they serve. This trust should not be broken,” Beil said.
“We used to believe in this country that saving for the future was a virtue. Pension plans are the most secure form of retirement savings used by generations of Americans. The problem isn’t that workers with pension plans have it too good, it is that a secure retirement is relentlessly being pushed out of reach for too many working people,” Beil said.
The solution isn’t to undermine a system that works. “A better way is to fight for the right to a secure retirement for all working people. That’s what our union has always done and what we are continuing to do today,” Beil said.
Beil said it is ironic that WPRI President George Lightbourn once was charged with overseeing the state’s budget. Then, he saw the Wisconsin Retirement System as a wise investment. Now that he’s got his own retirement secured and is in the pay of corporate interests, he thinks every public service employee who follows should settle for less.
© American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO. All rights reserved.
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