Unions Expect Battle Over Pension Benefits to Intensify In Wake of Election

US Capitol dome

Unions and other labor groups say they expect the fight over retirement benefits, specifically public pensions, to intensify as the election saw Republican make gains in many state-level legislatures and governor’s offices.

From Reuters:

Defenders of public pensions say they will be particularly focused on Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where they expect moves to reform pensions will gain steam after Republican gains on Tuesday.

“This fight is not going away,” said Jordan Marks of the National Public Pension Coalition, a national union-funded group that seeks to protect public pensions. “There are a number of states, including Colorado and Nevada. We are looking at next year.”


In Nevada, Republicans wrested control of both the state assembly and senate from Democrats. Lawmakers reconvene in February.

A Republican bill to switch Nevada’s pensions to a hybrid system was killed by Democrats in 2013. Analysts expect Republicans to reintroduce the measure next year.

In Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, the state treasurer who spearheaded pension reform measures in 2011, was elected governor despite union opposition. Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, an avowed enemy of unions after taking them on in 2011, was re-elected.

In California, an effort to get a measure on the 2016 ballot that would give local governments more leeway to cut public pension plans will also be renewed, according to the outgoing mayor of San Jose, Chuck Reed, the measure’s main proponent and a rare Democratic advocate for pension reform.

Victory for Reed’s successor in San Jose, Democrat Sam Liccardo, another vocal pension reformer, means a fight between police and the city over retirement benefits will continue unabated.

Labor leaders identified Colorado as another key state in the battle over pensions. Democrats control the House, but control of the Senate is still up in the air.

Milwaukee Proposes Pay Raises To Offset Employee Pension Contributions

Tom Barrett

Milwaukee’s mayor, Tom Barrett, is planning to give city workers a pay raise to make up for the increased percentage of their paychecks that must be contributed to the pension system.

The increased pension contributions are a part of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, which lowered pension costs for the state but shifted more expenses to employees.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The City of Milwaukee’s proposed 2015 budget would give pay raises of 3.9% to 2,331 workers next year to compensate them for state-mandated pension contributions, Mayor Tom Barrett said Monday.

The pay increases would cost the city $4.8 million, according to figures released Monday. The city also will eliminate the practice of mandatory furlough days as a budget-saving measure for all non-uniformed employees, at an additional cost of $2.7 million.

Those funds come from the $8 million in savings the city gained from not paying the employee pension contribution in 2015 for the 2,331 workers, according to Budget and Management Director Mark Nicolini.

Barrett said the employees deserve the boost in pay as compensation for the pension contributions after going without wage increases in 2011 and 2012 and contributing more toward health care costs in recent years.

Gov. Scott Walker’s signature change in public employee labor law, known as Act 10, bars municipalities from paying the employee share of pension contributions. So all local government employees — except firefighters and most law enforcement officers — are required to contribute half the cost of their pensions, under the law.

In Milwaukee, that amounts to 5.5% of a city worker’s pay for those employees hired before Jan. 1 of this year, Nicolini said.

The city council president agreed with the budgeted raises. From the Journal Sentinel:

Common Council President Michael Murphy said Monday he agreed with the mayor’s proposal. Non-uniformed employees have steadily lost income in the last several years when you consider the lack of raises and higher health care contributions, Murphy said.

“To attract and keep good employees, you can’t, year after year, tell them they are going to be making less money,” he said. “We have to compete with the private marketplace” for new hires.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the legality of Act 10 in a July ruling.


Photo By WisPolitics.com via Wikimedia Commons