A report by the Pew Research Center earlier this week indicated the wealth gap between middle- and upper-income households in America continues to widen to record levels. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-pew-wealth-gap-20141217-story.html
Congress has just acted to ensure that that record gap between rich and poor continues to grow https://www.ifebp.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=72
And if you think we down here in Louisiana are insulated and unaffected, think again.
The Pew report, drawing on the latest data from the Federal Reserve, says the median wealth for high-income families was $639,400 last year—up 7 percent from three years earlier on an inflation-adjusted basis—while the median income for Louisiana households was reported at $39,622. The figure for Louisiana represented a drop of 19.7 percent from the state’s 1999 peak year of median earnings of about $48,400. http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php
In 1983, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio was a shade less than 50:1. Today that difference stands at 331:1 and the CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio is even more obscene at 774:1. http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2014
And yet, even as corporate CEO pay and perks continue to reach stratospheric figures that the average employee can only imagine, Congress took a step last week that could actually lead to a major financial hit for retirees.
If that mammoth spending bill passed by Congress on Dec. 11 escaped your scrutiny, perhaps you should have been paying closer attention. Included in that bill was an obscure amendment which will permit benefit cuts for retirees in one type of pension plan—multi-employer plans jointly run by unions and employers.
By definition, that would mean members of unions who work for several companies. That could conceivably include Teamsters, building trades, longshoremen and any other workers whose unions have working agreements with multiple companies. http://www.wsj.com/articles/pension-change-seen-as-setting-a-precedent-1418586647
Louis Reine, President of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, acknowledged the amendment was inserted as a means of keeping some pension plans that are on shaky footing afloat. At the same time, however, he warned that the move was a “slippery slope” and should be approved “with all due caution and deliberation.”
That’s because now that management has a foot in the heretofore impenetrable door protecting workers’ pensions, the table has been set for even more far-reaching legislation to strip away benefits in other areas, including the public sector.
Remember, it was on Jan. 25, 2012, just three years ago, that Gov. Bobby Jindal, in a speech to the Baton Rotary Club, outlined his plans to “reform the state pension system to keep the state’s promise to workers, protect critical services and save taxpayer dollars.” http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=3220
Among those plans to “protect the state’s promise to workers” was a revamp of the state pension system that would have gutted benefits for state employees. We have often cited here the example of the worker who, if she never received another pay raise, would be eligible to retire after 30 years with a retirement of $39,000 per year. But under Jindal’s plan to “protect” her, that $39,000 would be reduced to $6,000 per year—a $33,000 per year hit—and the employee was not eligible for Social Security or Medicare.
The courts, fortunately for state employees, declared the state’s pension plan a contract which could not be arbitrarily broken by the state, though the state was left free to offer new hires a defined contribution retirement plan as opposed to the defined benefit to which the employee we cited was entitled.
The Wall Street Journal called the amendment to the federal spending bill as a “model for further cuts,” and therein lies the real threat to workers and retirees alike.
Karen Friedman, Executive Vice President of the Pension Rights Center, said the measure would “set a terrible precedent” in that it could encourage similar cutbacks in troubled state and local pension plans and maybe even Social Security and Medicare.
That is a chilling prediction and in all probability, deadly accurate.
The thumbprints of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are all over the amendment and the Koch brothers-run organization isn’t about to stop with gutting the pensions of a few union retirees.
And before anyone tries to claim that business and industry does not have an organized union to represent their interests, we have three words for you: U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And the U.S. Chamber is not only a member of ALEC, but is a major operative within ALEC. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/U.S._Chamber_of_Commerce
In 1971, an obscure corporate attorney named Lewis Powell authored what has come to be known as the Powell Manifesto. In it, he laid out a blueprint for a corporate legislative agenda to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Director of the U.S. Chamber. That memorandum by Powell, written only two months before President Nixon nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court, inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy, among others.
Powell’s memo has also served ALEC’s legislative agenda which includes, among other things, the privatization of Social Security and Medicare. http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/
Is it merely a coincidence that Louisiana’s Right to Work law, supported by ALEC and the U.S. Chamber, was passed only five years after Powell’s memorandum and four years after the founding of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI)?
So now, ALEC, the U.S. Chamber, and Republican leaders alike already have Social Security and Medicare in their crosshairs: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/04/republican-social-security-cuts so can other private pension plans be far behind? Will the individual states like Louisiana renew efforts to slash retirement benefits for state employees?
As Louis Reine said, it is indeed a slippery slope and once the momentum moves in that direction, it will be virtually impossible to reverse.
And it’s important to remember that while public employees’ retirement benefits are at risk, the opening salvo has been aimed at private pension benefits. If they can pull that off, the rest will simply be low-hanging fruit.
Are you willing to take to the streets to defend what is rightfully yours?
How much is your retirement worth to you?
These questions are not hypothetical.