Labor Voices: GOP plan destroys pensions

Ron Bieber

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week in America, which is a time for all of us to say thank you to Michigan’s hardworking teachers and school employees who are on the front lines in classrooms every single day working to make a positive impact in the lives of our children.

But instead, some Republicans in Lansing are getting ready to pass legislation that would destroy pensions for all new teachers and school employees in Michigan.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and House Speaker Tom Leonard are currently working behind closed doors on legislation that would close the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) to new hires, forcing them into riskier retirement savings accounts that are subject to Wall Street speculation.

Destroying pensions would leave thousands of teachers, bus drivers, and librarians without access to the most efficient and secure method of saving for retirement. That’s bad for educators, bad for students, and bad for families.

Nobody becomes a teacher to get rich. They become teachers because they love to teach, and they care deeply about helping our children to learn, grow, and think.

It’s hard enough as it is to keep good teachers in the classroom. Eliminating pensions for school employees will make it even harder to attract and retain the best and the brightest people to careers in public education.

Of course, the move to destroy pensions doesn’t have anything to do with improving education. This is just another way Republicans are rigging the economy to make it work for their corporate campaign donors while regular families struggle to get by.

All you have to do is follow the money.

At a meeting of corporate executives last September, Amway CEO Doug DeVos publicly announced that his number one policy priority for Michigan was to eliminate pensions for all public employees.

Republicans didn’t wait long to get started. They tried to ram legislation through during the lame-duck session last December to close MPSERS, but weren’t able to secure enough votes. Now they’re at it again, and it’s easy to understand why.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos family has made at least $82 million in political contributions since 1999. During the last election cycle, Rep. Leonard took $9,000 from the DeVos family, and Sen. Meekhof has received $54,500 from the DeVos family since 2011.

It’s pretty clear that when the DeVos family says “jump,” Republican politicians say “how high?”

The worst part is eliminating pensions won’t actually save taxpayers money. In fact, just the opposite is true.

As former Republican state Sen. Roger Kahn said last week, “There is no way to close the pension plan and provide a similar benefit without also costing the state a heck of a lot more money.”

The truth is, eliminating pensions for new school employees would cost Michigan taxpayers billions of dollars in upfront costs to keep our existing pension promises. That’s money that should be going to improve our schools, or fix our crumbling roads and bridges.

It’s time to get our priorities straight.

Destroying pensions is wrong. It will hurt students and parents, and won’t help anyone except billionaires like the DeVos family, who don’t want to pay their fair share to invest in good schools and better roads.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, the best way to thank a teacher is by telling our lawmakers to protect pensions for school employees.

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.