Says here Vermont’s public sector unions are feeling anxious about closed-door talks on how to fix their pension plans. Can’t say I blame them. The 2021 session is more than halfway done, Speaker Jill Krowinski is determined to get something done by then, and there’s been not a peep about what a fix might look like. And since Treasurer Beth Pearce has outlined exactly how drastically pensions might change, the teachers’ and state employees’ union have every right to be concerned.
And this is the time to show their concern through hardball, sharp-elbow politics. Give ’em hell. Threaten a cutoff of union support for any lawmaker who supports a major cut in pension benefits or a major increase in employee pay-in. Get in there and throw some elbows.
Mind you, I’m not talking right and wrong here. I’m talking the timely application of leverage.
The VSEA and VT-NEA are two of the most powerful forces in the Vermont Democratic Party. They provide financial support, volunteers, and lots of voters. They have earned a great deal of influence in party circles. That influence should be brought to bear, right now if not sooner.
You’d think this wouldn’t be necessary. You’d think the Legislature’s Demo/Prog majority would be working with the unions to resolve this crisis. But union lobbyists say otherwise.
The VT-NEA’s Darren Allen, as quoted in VTDigger: “We have no idea what this proposal from the House of Representatives is going to look like. We really don’t know who is constructing it.”
And Steve Howard of the VSEA: “Here’s how it appears to our members: A secret committee is meeting to put together a plan that’s going to drop from the sky.”
That doesn’t sound like the unions are wielding as much influence as they should. Again, not talking right or wrong, just realpolitik.
Maybe this is a bit of window-dressing to disguise a more inclusive approach behind the scenes. Maybe Allen and Howard are engaging in a bit of fear tactics to engage their members on the issue. But still.
The Vermont Democratic Party is in a weakened state. The only thing that’s keeping them in power is the even worse condition of Vermont’s Republican and Progressive parties. But the Dems are as vulnerable as they’ve been in quite a while, and they need the unions on their side.
I trust that party leadership is aware of that. I hope that legislative leadership is fully aware of that. Krowinski told VTDigger that she’s been meeting regularly with union leaders to get their input. Great, but she’s not bound to follow their advice. It sounds more like a polite brush-off, to be honest. And when she promises that after the proposal drops there will be “lots of time available, including a public hearing,” that definitely sounds like a brush-off.
“A” public hearing? Wonderful. A two-hour dog and pony show. “Lots of time”? Again, we’re more than halfway to adjournment. If a plan is to clear the Legislature this year, it will have to move quickly.
Maybe the Dems are a little too comfortable about union backing. After all, where are the unions going to go? The Republicans? The Progs? To Democrats, either prospect is laughable. Sorry, Progs, but they don’t see you as a threat.
And really, the unions aren’t going to permanently switch sides. But they could sit the next election out. That should be enough to win them a prominent seat at the table.
Now, let’s briefly turn to the right and wrong of this. Strong pension plans are a public good. When retirees have financial security, they spend money and contribute to the economy. The crap-ification of private sector pensions is a drag on the economy and on the public purse, since We The People end up paying the freight for those who can’t fend for themselves.
That’s without considering any moral obligation we have to give our retirees some security. I don’t want to be part of a society that throws people into the Soylent Green factory when they outlive their purpose. I want to be part of a society that values the welfare of all. The best way to achieve that isn’t by trashing public sector pensions; it means coming up with a way to improve everybody’s financial security.