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AFSCME Fights Pension Cost-of-Living Freeze in Ohio

AFSCME Fights Pension Cost-of-Living Freeze in Ohio
By Melissa Weinstein ·

Retired school cafeteria worker and Ohio AFSCME member Reatha Goshay loved making sure students in Columbus were well fed every day at lunch. The school children appreciated her hard work and dedication, according to Goshay’s interview with WBNS-TV in Columbus. However, at 70 years old, this retiree worries about putting food on her own table because of a new law that took effect this year.

The law, which freezes the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next three years, will hurt more than 80,000 retired school employees as they receive smaller pension checks, pushing some of them into poverty.

The Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) has filed a lawsuit as the union stands up for thousands of retirees who are already struggling to get by. With an average benefit of $1,184 a month, a 3 percent cut would be significant for people like Goshay, who spent 35 years doing public service work.

"I worked hard for that. I think I deserve it. I need it," Goshay explained to WBNS, locally known as 10TV.

The state has asked a court to dismiss OAPSE’s lawsuit and the union has submitted its response. The court is considering arguments from all sides.

School bus drivers, secretaries, food service workers, custodians, and school librarians alike will be affected the COLA freeze law, which codified a decision made by the School Employee Retirement System of Ohio (SERS).

Karen Holdridge, 70-year-old school bus driver retiree, is forced to come out of retirement to drive a hotel shuttle bus for minimum wage to make ends meet.

“I just got a notification today that my rent’s going up again,” Holdridge told WCMH-TV, locally known as NBC4. “I was counting on a cost-of-living increase because everything is going up, but my pension won’t be, so I don’t know how I’m going to handle this.”

 According to OAPSE’s lawsuit, SERS is overpaying financial managers and investment consultants instead of using the money to help retirees meet rising costs. Over a 10-year period, the lawsuit says, the pension fund paid out more than $850 million in fees to outside investment managers.

“The monies spent by SERS for outside investment consultants is at best a disgrace and at its worst evidences inept public policy choices, if not outright criminal conduct,” according to the lawsuit. “The COLA freeze is being imposed by SERS at a time when it will have the harshest effect on retirees.”

(Lisa Martin contributed to this story)

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