by Clyde Weiss | July 11, 2012
Retirees protest at a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo. (Photo courtesy National Public Pension Coalition)
Dozens of retirees – some from Rhode Island – demonstrated Tuesday in downtown Washington to point out that sweeping changes to that state’s public pension system jeopardize workers’ retirement security.
The demonstrators were brought together by the National Public Pension Coalition, of which AFSCME is a leading member. The target of the retirees’ wrath: Rhode Island Treas. Gina Raimondo, an architect of the severe benefit cuts, who was in town for a political fundraiser at the law firm of McKenna, Long & Aldridge on K Street.
“Gina Raimondo has forgotten her middle class roots because she scapegoated public employees for the past failures of Rhode Island politicians,” said Michael Connolly, president of AFSCME Rhode Island Retiree Chapter 94. “Retirees like me, many of whom do not receive social security will be forced into poverty because of Raimondo’s pension cuts”
To make their point, the activists handed out cat food to symbolize the tough choices that retirees must make because of the unjustified pension overhaul that was pushed by a business coalition. That overhaul was crafted by Raimondo and Gov. Lincoln Chafee, and signed into law last November over the protests of thousands at a statehouse rally sponsored by the Rhode Island Retirement Security Coalition.
The inaptly labeled Retirement Security Act did nothing to ensure retirement security of the 66,000 current and retired public teachers, state employees, judges and municipal workers who are covered by the plan. Instead, it cut benefits for current and future employees; froze automatic, annual cost-of-living adjustments for retirees for five years; and raised the minimum retirement age to 67 for most employees not already eligible to retire. The measure also created a plan to merge future pensions with 401(k)-style accounts that makes retirement investments subject to the whims of an unstable stock market.
The Pew Center on the States called the plan “unprecedented, both in terms of the employees it would affect and the scope and scale of changes to their benefits.” Read more here.
Last month, four public-sector unions in Rhode Island filed lawsuits in Superior Court challenging the pension overhaul as unfair and unconstitutional. The lawsuits were filed by AFSCME Council 94, the Rhode Island Public Employee Retiree Coalition, the National Education Association of Rhode Island and a union that represents city of Cranston police officers.
“This devastating law is simply about misplaced priorities, not saving the state money,” said J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94. “Pension benefits are only a tiny portion of the state’s overall spending. Instead of blaming retirees for the state’s fiscal problems, politicians who have failed to live up to their obligations should instead get their fiscal house in order by raising necessary revenue from the wealthiest 1 percent, and from corporations that have benefitted for years from tax breaks.”
Read more about the myths of public employee pensions here.