My Letter to the Editor – Florida:
There is much talk lately about pensions. Our governor would like us to believe this talk is about fairness. Why should the private sector have to pay into their pensions while the public sector doesn’t? Those were his words, I believe. Well, let us look at this statement? I think when we do, we will realize that it is a lose / lose for both sides, public and private.
First of all, let’s look at the public side. Public employees must be enrolled in the Florida Retirement System (FRS). It is not optional. We have no choice. FRS is our only option. Well, that doesn’t sound fair, you say. Maybe not… maybe 401ks and other retirement options would better suit our needs. Yet, we have a reason for staying where we are with our FRS pensions. We have collective bargaining written into our State Constitution. That gives us the ability to negotiate our own pensions and FRS. And, be not confused, we have negotiated away much of our salaries over the years, just to maintain those pensions. Our choice … our right.
The Florida Legislature’s recent passing of changes to our FRS, requiring employee contribution, was done without the consult of its members: us public employees. Changes were made without collective bargaining. That takes away our only choice and violates the rights protected by our Constitution. Lose.
Now, let’s look at the private sector perspective. Private employees have some choices. They may choose a retirement plan and set it up or they may chose not to. Some employers may match, some may not. Private sector employees usually know this info before the interview. You factor such info into your selection of employers. Right? Well, that seems fair. You bargain for yourself. Yes, it might be nice to have a collective supporting you, like us public employees, but that is your choice as well… isn’t it?
So, how are changes to public FRS a ‘lose’ for the private sector? It is simple. While our options of retirement plans may differ, our choice of the Constitution does not. And just as easily as they manipulate our State Constitution to remove the fair rights of public employees, they will do so to manipulate the rights of the private sector. I can hear their argument now: ‘If public employees have to pay into a retirement plan, shouldn’t the private?’ Can’t you just hear the statement released from the governor’s office, somewhere down the road … ‘Fair is fair, right?’
Not so much. Forced privatization of pensions, public or private, by the government is not an option … it is a tax. Lose / Lose.
Let us also not forget: our Florida FRS is doing very well. It is one of the best in the nation. I know our State Constitution says FRS modifications must be made on ‘sound actuarial basis’. Basically, FRS must be in the red. It is not. Yet, our governor would like us to ignore that line in the State Constitution and let them decide what is fair. I say not. I will stick with the Constitution, thank you very much, Sir. Fair is collective bargaining. Fair is due process and the right to my personal property. That is fair for public and private.
Those in charge might hope to pit the public sector against the private sector as they do what they please… but we know better. We are pretty sure our Florida Courts know better, as well. I congratulate our teachers union, FEA, for initiating a lawsuit to review the Constitutionality of these changes to our pension. By doing so, they are protecting the Constitution for us all.
I will end with this thought: Our governor recently released a form letter for our use when writing these letters to the editors. He praised himself as ‘refreshing.’ I chose not to use his form letter when writing this one.
My apologies, Sir. Fair is fair…