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State workers: ‘Hey, don’t blame us’

By Reuters
February 17, 2011

New Jersey Governor-elect Chris Christie greets supporters before delivering his victory speech at election night headquarters in Parsippany, New Jersey, in this November 3, 2009 file photo. Christie has called the state's long-term pension obligations "fairy tale promises" that are unsustainable," saying the state's unfunded pension liabilities -- $46 billion and growing -- threaten the system with collapse. REUTERS/Jeff Zelevansky/Files

When a New Jersey family with an autistic child walks into the state office seeking help, Norlande Perpignan is often the first person they see.

A clerk making $41,082 a year at the Division of Developmental Disabilities, Perpignan, 40, is also on the front lines of a national debate about public spending, taxes and a fiscal crisis facing local governments.

With the sluggish economy constricting tax revenue, many states, counties and local governments are fiscally distressed, adding unprecedented volatility to the traditionally safe, $2.8 trillion municipal bond market.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has called the state’s long-term pension obligations “fairy tale promises” that are unsustainable,” saying the state’s unfunded pension liabilities — $46 billion and growing — threaten the system with collapse.

As a result, state worker benefits are being targeted by budget-cutting politicians and resentful taxpayers whose defined benefit pensions disappeared a generation ago and whose retirement savings shrank in the financial crisis.

But state workers of modest means are asking why they are being asked to pay for the mistakes of Wall Street, which inflated the bubble with easy credit and big bets on risky mortgages and then got bailed out with hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money after the crash of 2008.

“There’s more stress because you don’t know when they’re going to call you in and give you a pink slip (dismissal notice),” said Perpignan, a single mother and 20-year employee suddenly faced with reduced benefits. “I’m always stressed, wondering if 20 years means anything to them. I have a child in college plus two other kids.”

Christie, whose aggressive budget-cutting has made him a national star in the Republican Party, wants to help balance the budget by paring the benefits of employees like Perpignan.

Without reform, New Jersey’s unfunded pension liabilities would grow to $181 billion in 30 years, he says.

PENSION POLITICS

Under Christie’s plan, Perpignan would pay an extra $5,700 a year in contributions toward her pension and health care benefits — another 14 percent of her pretax salary — on top of the $2,875 she pays now.

In addition, she would have to work another 10 years before retiring — at age 65 instead of 55 — and would collect a $15,800 annual pension, nearly $3,000 less than what she has been promised since she was hired 20 years ago.

Public sector workers recognize that they often have more secure retirement plans than their private sector counterparts and reputations as lazy underperformers who have been rewarded by politicians courting favor with public-sector unions.

They may suffer from association with cases of politicians collecting generous pensions despite being convicted of crimes.

Some of them are fighting back.

“Even if you are at your worst, you have to try your best, because there are families coming in, and there’s nothing else you can do but be your best and greet them with dignity,” Perpignan said.

A DEAL IS A DEAL

Many pensioners who retired under one set of rules are now facing reductions years after they stopped working. Their unions typically negotiated more modest salary packages in exchange for better retirement benefits.

“It’s ridiculous the way they’re attacking the pensions,” said Dennis Ahern, 69, a retired New York City transit police officer who had a gun pulled on him twice and lost seven friends who were killed on the job. “They have us on the beach of Bermuda because we have a pension. No. You’re paying your bills. I live modestly. I can buy a Hyundai.”

In 21 years on the job, Ahern said he never made more than $36,000 a year and retired in 1987. He collects a pension of $26,000 a year plus a variable supplement that amounted to $12,000 last year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to eliminate that supplement.

“That isn’t fair. That wasn’t the agreement. It wasn’t a bonus. We paid for it. It was negotiated. It’s fair and square,” Ahern said.

Christie last year skipped a $3 billion payment to the fund, meaning the contribution will have to be made up in the future or asset prices will have to rise dramatically for the fund to meet future obligations to pensioners.

Critics fault a series of governors who chose not to make employer contributions.

“What really is at issue here is an ideological theory that says that the individual should take care of his retirement economic security and any pooling of resources into a pension fund is ideologically unacceptable,” said Denis Hughes, president of the New York State AFL-CIO and a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s board of directors.

Private sector employees had defined benefit pension funds for many years and they suffered the same problem that the public sector has now, where employers didn’t fund them.”

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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14 Responses to State workers: ‘Hey, don’t blame us’

  1. woody188

    February 17, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Public sector employees thought their unions were safe after the manufacturing unions were destroyed. Should have stood up for your manufacturing brothers. The new standard union wage plus benefits works out to $15 per hour and your masters degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Prepare for longer hours for lower pay, reduced benefits and a 401(k) for Wall Street to exploit.

    Go on strike? There’s only 5-6 people that would love to have your job at the lowered wage and benefit level. Violence will be labeled terrorism and you will be disappeared and tortured until you admit your crime of fomenting violence and economic terrorism.

    We interrupt this program with a special bulletin:
    America is now under marshall law.
    All constitutional rights have been suspended.
    Stay in your homes.
    Do not attempt to contact love ones, insurance agents or attorney’s.
    Shut up.
    Do not attempt to think or depression may occur.
    Stay in your homes.
    Curfew is at 7 PM sharp after work.
    Anyone caught outside the gates of their suveillance sectors after curfew will be shot.
    Remain calm, do not panic.
    Your neighborhood watch officer will be by to collect urine samples in the morning.
    Anyone caught interfering with the collection of urine samples will be shot.
    Stay in your homes, remain calm.
    The number one enemy of progress is question.
    National security is more important than individual will.
    All sports broadcasts will proceed as normal.
    No more than two people may gather anywhere without permission.
    Use only the drugs prescribed by your boss or supervisor.
    Shut up, be happy.
    Obey all orders without question.
    The comfort you demanded is now mandatory.
    Be happy.
    At last everything is done for you.

    “Shut Up, Be Happy” by Ice-T featuring Jello Biafra from the album “The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say”

    • Sharonsj

      February 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      I agree with you over what happened to private pensions. Corporate raiders were allowed to legally steal the pension funds and screw all the workers, who got nothing after years of paying into those funds. I used to wonder why none of the workers ever just shot dead one of those raiders–nobody seemed to care about the situation, especially our so-called elected representatives.

      Meanwhile, did you know that members of Congress are entitled to a FULL pension after only 5 years and they collect that pension at age 62? The rest of us work for 45 years and still get screwed. I think every damn member of Congress should start by giving up their own pensions first.

  2. b mcclellan

    February 18, 2011 at 12:29 am

    On Wisconsin.
    Ain’t no stoppin us now
    It’s a hard rain
    The ballad of Hollis Brown
    And the locust sang in their day,
    off in the distance, a strange melody
    We are by no means comfortable, Woodrow.

    Where is that confounded demanded elation ?

  3. Carl Nemo

    February 18, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Good post Woody and the lyrics to the song are closer to the truth than anyone might realize in the event such a declaration should be declared.

    In military field manuals concerning escape and evasion after capture they always advise making your attempt at escape asap after such because the further you are moved into enemy territory and concentrated into better controlled groups in internment camps your chances fade quickly. So the best defense against matial law on every armed citizens part is immediate and summary resistance with everything at your disposal regardless of the threatened consequences of being shot. You’ll either be shot sooner or later, but if you should prevail and tens of thousands of other citizens it would very destabilizing to a ‘regime’ no suspecting such violent resistance.

    People will then realize the gravity of the words “Give me liberty or give me death”…Patrick Henry in a speech to the Virginia convention March 23, 1775

    I thought I’d supply a link to the 1969 U.S. Army field manual FM 21-76 “Survival, evasion and escape” in .pdf format.

    http://www.mediafire.com/?ytewgiutzoi

    Generally manuals of this nature discuss survival in wilderness situation, but this one goes beyond in Chapter 13 where it discusses escape and evasion and it also give tips on how to survive in an internment situation too. Ingenuity along with imagination and a fierce spirit of not to give up or quit is what’s necessary for survival. To borrow this President’s slogan while on the campaign trail…”Yes we can” is the spirit for overcoming tyranny for all time and places. If the need should arise, give them a piece of their sloganeering back in spades. : |

    Carl Nemo **==

    • woody188

      February 18, 2011 at 2:01 am

      I recall reading some where that if the people fought the Stasi instead of complying that the Stasi might think twice before kicking in the next door if their life is on the line.

      Guess they are up to some 30,000 in the streets of Madison and the city has basically been shut down. Did your local network affiliate even report on it?

      I wish them the best, but I fear the street protests no longer have the impact they once had. It would have to go nationwide and last at least a month. We seem to not have the resources to outlast our robber barons. That will change once we have nothing left to lose, but that time is not quite here.

      • Carl Nemo

        February 18, 2011 at 2:22 am

        Wow what a story and no it hasn’t been reported on our local news outlets. The article said that media trucks were beginning to move into town to cover the protests which revolve around state employee union busting pushed down their throats by a ‘rethug’ contingent.

        http://www.thenation.com/blog/158661/wisconsin-crowds-swell-30000-key-gop-legislators-waver

        Visualize this. Tonight we’re typing away making comments on the web and all of sudden the tube goes black field with a FEMA (civil defense) warning with a message to follow. The message pretty much follows the lyrics to “Shut Up be Happy” by Ice T with variation of course, but they’ve basically pulled the plug on the internet no different than in Egypt recently.

        You go to your tv monitor and its the same. Now they have an entire nation with a bucket slammed over their heads. Other than folks with SW radios, amateur HAM radios or handheld public service radios and scanners they will not know what’s happening except the pap released by the powers that be. Just food for thought is all. Suddenly your world shrinks to an event horizon equal to your property line. Leave your home and cross that line and you are subject to being shot on site. Think it can’t happen here, then think again…! / : |

        *****

        “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”…Miguel de Cervantes

        *****

        Carl Nemo **==

        • griff

          February 18, 2011 at 8:03 am

          Plan B.

      • griff

        February 18, 2011 at 7:59 am

        “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say goodbye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling in terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand. The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst; the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

        • Carl Nemo

          February 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm

          Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was spot-on with his recommendation. Too bad citizens in this country won’t realize it’s a workable ‘plan’ at least better than nothing. They’ll have to countenance what it will feel like if they are being herded through some turnstile to their imminent demise in a high tech, Halliburton constructed NWO extermination facility. Then what…! / : |

          Better to stand and die fighting til your last breath than to die on your knees like a slave with a bullet administered to the base of the brain or gassed in a chamber…no?

          People simply think it can’t happen here, but it can. The average person has no sense as to what depths, monsters in high places will go in order to further their sick, all-controlling agendas for their fellow citizens.

          “Absolute power corrupt absolutely”… Lord Acton

          Carl Nemo **==

          • Carl Nemo

            February 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm

            “Absolute power corrupt absolutely”… Lord Acton

            should read: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”… Lord Acton

            Lord Acton’s words deserve absolute accuracy too. My bad. : (

            Carl Nemo **==

          • woody188

            February 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

            Thanks griff, that’s the quote I was thinking of.

            Carl, in New Orleans they willingly went to the Super Dome with the promise of being saved. Once locked inside, our government knew the chickens would start pecking each other to death.

          • griff

            February 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm

            It can happen any where, as much of history shows us.

  4. Carl Nemo

    February 18, 2011 at 2:42 am

    “shot on site” …should read: “shot on sight”

    In a way both are correct though. You are seen by the authorities and shot on the site of your property or at least a few steps off… / : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  5. Fivebyfives

    February 18, 2011 at 9:48 am

    “I don’t obey the law: the law obeys me”……I don’t think many commenters on this site would argue too forciblly that such a sentiment is at odds with most of the “elites” (of whatever party) in charge of what we call government.

    How strange that a nation founded upon a revolution has atrophied, clinging (bitterly if you insist) upon a giant pacifier of status quo. The Republicans want to starve me; the Democrats want me to eat carrots and broccoli, no smokes, no drinks, no gum, no spitting on the sidewalk…and worship at the altar of a global plantation economy.

    Unions are, in my opinion, a necessary evil. What is astounding is that within the last 30 years unions have only a tiny sliver of the working populace. To balance a budget is one thing, but to eliminate collective bargaining rights is another. I can’t remember if it was Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, or Andrew Mellon, but the quote is, “A man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there.” Those who haven’t spent their lives in the deep South have no idea how that concept has been kept alive for centuries.

    A French immigrant once told me, “If there is one thing the South learned from your Civil War is that it is much cheaper to rent slaves than to own them.” Such is the case but it covers the entire country. The little people may march and raise hell in Wisconsin and Ohio (or anywhere else) but as Woody and Carl surmise, the use of government to crush unruly peons is always an option.

    I did not attend an Ivy League school; I have no training in public policy issues; no expertise. But I see a freight train roaring towards a bridge that is no longer there. If there is a history to be written many years from now, the common question will be, “How could these people have been so stupid?”

    “Now suppose I was a congressman. And suppose I am an idiot. But I repeat myself.” ….Mark Twain