Soky Member reflects on the Fund Our Pension rally in Frankfort

When I became a member of KFTC a few short months ago, I wanted to find ways to make a difference in our community and in our Commonwealth. I had such an opportunity when I was able to attend the Fund Our Pension Rally in Frankfort on November 1. I have been shocked and horrified by our Governor’s depiction of state workers, and especially of public school teachers, as greedy, lazy, and yes, unsophisticated. As one speaker from Vocational Rehabilitation pointed out, he saved as many sick days as he could so if he or his wife or one of his kids had an accident or a serious illness, he would have time to take off. If a worker comes to work with the sniffles or on crutches or with a cast on their arm (I have done all three) and still does their job, and then retires with a couple of months of sick time built up, they should be paid for it.  They could have stayed home and left work undone, but they didn’t.  That is their time accrued and promised to them. The Governor has tried, with some success, to drive a wedge between the private and public sectors.  What people need to know is that when I retired three months ago, the college-educated person who was hired to take my place started at $12.15 an hour.  They could have started at Target with a high school diploma for $11.00 an hour, so, believe me, we don’t work for the state out of greed. I heard one speaker talk about how state workers clear our streets, teach our kids, inspect our swimming pools, help the disabled find jobs, keep us safe, put out our fires, and on and on. No, these are not lazy people, these are people who work for little compensation to care for their fellow citizens. And unsophisticated was just another word for stupid, so I will not even stoop to answer that one. It was clear from the signs and the speeches that no one was happy with that insult.

So what is at stake? For my pension personally, nothing. For our state, I see the very real possibility of no longer being able to recruit and retain qualified, passionate workers, and therefore the quality of services we depend upon dropping dramatically. For my coworkers and state employed family members, there will be a 3% cut in already low, inadequate pay. For those who were hired recently, in the past few years, they will lose the pension they were promised when they were hired and be moved to a 401K. For those who have been there longer, most will only acquire a pension during the first 27 years of work, and then be moved to a 401K, although this is not what they were promised when they were hired. Right now, a state worker has to work around 32 -33 years in order to take home the same amount he is making while working, so this means all state workers will take a drastic pay cut in their old age. All new hires will go on a 401K, which means if we have a recession like the one in 2008, they could end up with no retirement at all. I fail to see why anyone would choose to work for the state under these conditions.

The state pension system was fine until legislators started “borrowing” from it and then never paid back what they borrowed. No, we are not getting rich, but we work for less, and retire with less, in exchange for the satisfaction of a meaningful job well done. We should, however, not have to work two jobs just to make ends meet. And we are not willing to work for less and then not get a pension.  As many of the speakers as well as the folks assembled there said, “Don’t cut it, fund it!”  To take money out of the retirement system for decades to meet other budget needs and then not only blame state workers for the deficit, but make us pay for it is totally unacceptable, and ridiculous. State workers pay their share of their retirement out of every single paycheck.  We do our part. Now the governor needs to do his. One of the very important things I learned at this rally was that there has been a proposed solution in the Kentucky Forward Plan, sponsored by Representative Jim Wayne, for years. Closing tax loopholes that affect the rich is distasteful to the current administration, and to some past administrations as well, but it is time to make the rich and corporations pay their fair share. I think the way we get there is to never give up, to keep making the phone calls, writing the letters, sending the emails, and attending the rallies. 

As for me, I found it empowering and exhilarating to be in a crowd of hundreds of my fellow Kentuckians, all of us from different areas of the state, with different backgrounds, but with a common vision.  I was proud of the workers who came out in the drizzling rain to stand together and lift our voices.  I was proud to be a member of KFTC as one of the sponsoring organizations. So, what’s next for me?  As a recent retiree, I now have the time to work on issues that matter to me in a meaningful way, so the first thing I plan to do is join our local KFTC tax and pension team.  After that, who knows?

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