HAPPENING IN YOUR UNION
An Update on pension payments tied to cola
On January 28, 2014, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court heard oral argument in the appeal of Trial Court Judge Hurd's decision dismissing the legal challenge to the suspension of the COLAs. CWA attorney Ira Mintz was one of two lead counsel for the numerous unions participating in the lawsuit.
It is very difficult to predict an outcome based on the questions asked by the judges at an oral argument. However, the judges did not ask any questions about the constitutional issues that formed the basis of Judge Hurd's decision. Instead, they focused on whether there would need to be a remand to the trial court should they find that there is a constitutionally-protected non-forfeitable right to COLAs, so the trial court could develop a record on the issue of whether the State nevertheless had a right to impair that non-forfeitable right.
Also, the judges asked the parties to submit supplemental briefs on whether a 1996 settlement agreement between the Internal Revenue Service and the State required the State to create the non-forfeitable right to pension benefits that forms the basis for our claim that the State cannot reduce pension benefits, including COLAs. We filed our supplemental brief on Tuesday, February 11. The State's response is due on February 25.
The "forgotten" sandy Victims
1038 and other locals will be going to the town hall in Port Monmouth tomorrow to question the governor on his current actions and failure to release Hurricane Sandy Relief funds.
In case you missed it:
RETIREES REACT TO JUDGE HEARING ORAL ARGUMENTS ON NJ’S BROKEN PROMISE ON PENSION & COLA
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY) – Today, retirees from throughout New Jersey attended – and reacted to – oral arguments at an appellate court hearing at the Middlesex County Courthouse. The issue at hand was the elimination of the Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) to public workers who were already retired when the 2011 pension and benefits legislation went into effect.
These retirees worked for the State of New Jersey and were promised a pension that would afford them a modest retirement when their careers ended. These are not merely numbers on a ledger sheet, but rather real people who were told in 2011 that the value of their pension would decrease every year for the rest of their lives. Many had already made long-term retirement plans based on the promises made to them when they retired. And now they face difficult financial decisions on a fixed-income and with little recourse.
“These are supposed to be our golden years, not our crisis years,” said Mabel Thomas, who worked 25 years as a Developmental Center Nursing Supervisor at Marlboro and Arthur Brisbane. "The State of New Jersey has sadly been very consistent in attacking our most vulnerable - from our children to our disabled and now our retirees.”
“I’m 58 years old and a widow - with a son I'm putting through college,” said Beverly Kelley Jeter, a retiree from the Middlesex Board of Social Services. “This isn't just a legal issue. It's my life. And it’s important for me to be able to provide for my family.”
"For 32 years, I served my community by monitoring air pollutants and hazardous materials,” said Peter Burkhalter who worked at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “Today, I have to care for extended family in my retirement years. I fulfilled my commitment to making New Jersey a safe and healthy place to live, and now the state should fulfill its obligations."
The legal issue heard today is this: In 1997, the New Jersey State Legislature declared that, upon vesting, an employee has a right to receive benefits under the pension benefits program in existence at the time the employee attained five years of pension service credit. That promise is a contract that both the United States and New Jersey Constitutions declare cannot be impaired by subsequent legislative action.
When Governor Christie and legislators made those changes in 2011, they ensured that hard-working New Jerseyans would receive less than they were promised. The legislature suspended payment of future COLAs to all retired public employees whose plans were less than 80% funded. COLAs are an integral part of the vested pension benefits program. A COLA is a modest increase in the dollar amount of a pension that goes into effect once a year in response to inflation. It is similar to the COLA that Social Security beneficiaries receive.
The elimination of COLAs for those already retired has real, negative impacts on real people. As such, a coalition of unions and individuals representing tens of thousands of active and retired employees filed a lawsuit challenging the COLA suspension.
Superior Court Judge Douglas Hurd dismissed the unions' lawsuit on the ground that the New Jersey Constitution prohibits any Legislature from promising to pay COLAs and presumably from promising to pay even basic pension benefits. Today, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court heard oral arguments on the appeal of Judge Hurd's decision.
N.J. public workers unions to appeal removal of cost of living increases from pensions
A group of New Jersey public employee unions argued in appeals
court on Tuesday that the state’s decision in 2011 to remove
cost of living increases for public employees’ pensions was
unconstitutional and must be reinstated...
Read the full article here!
LARRY COHEN ON ED SHULTZ SPEAKING OUT AGAINST THE TRANS PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP
no fast track of tpp. city hall, nyc
This is the labor movement's dedication to stop the TPP! Be part of the movement. Make the call to your representative and tell them to vote against the TPP!
CHRIS HAyes explains the george washington bridge scandal
CWA President Larry Cohen to Testify on TPP
UNIONS BLAST CHRISTIE on state of the state address
Unions blasted the governor for even suggesting the state should find a way out of making the payments. Hetty Rosenstein, state director at Communications Workers of America, said it speaks to the "whole integrity of government."
"The state of New Jersey must meet its pension obligation, just as it has to meet the obligation for any other debt," she said. "He’s really talking about defaulting. Just like any other debt, you have to make the pension obligation. You have to be able to do that."
The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said Christie’s remarks implied a return to "irresponsible funding practices" and are "utterly unacceptable." Spokesman Steve Baker said the 2011 overhaul was hard enough for its members. "They’re paying significantly more out of pocket for their pensions even though they’re the ones who had been always contributing to their pensions in the first place," Baker said.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) said "it would be a break of the public trust to not make those payments." Sweeney tried to flip Christie’s rosy words about the state’s future around on him. "You hear about people’s dreams," Sweeney said. "How about people who dream about having a retirement? If we don’t continue, their dreams are broken. We are not backing off of that."
Read the full article on the Star Ledger.
Help us stop the TPP
Right now, behind closed doors, away from the eyes of the public, representatives from 11 countries – including our own – and multiple international corporations are negotiating a so-called “free trade” agreement that could have more far-reaching impacts than even NAFTA.
Called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, it would lessen trade barriers between the United States and numerous countries throughout the Pacific and South America, including those which pay their workers only a fraction of what American workers make, and in conditions that no worker should endure. It would have more negative impacts on New Jersey industries that have never recovered from NAFTA.
Click here to send a letter to your member of Congress to tell them to oppose TPP and fast-track authority that would kill American jobs.
What’s worse, TPP would actually let rich corporations take governments to international courts to challenge laws they see as endangering their profits. It would make the outsourcing of American jobs easier. It would trample the rights of workers to organize. It would allow foreign companies to sell our families food and other products that don’t come near to meeting our nation’s high standards for safety and quality. Quite simply, TTP would put us in a dangerous race to the bottom!
Help us stop TPP before it’s too late! The Office of the US Trade Representative has asked Congress for broad fast-track powers that could force TPP on us without the proper oversight and debate. We need you to join us in making sure Congress and the President know that they cannot enter these so-called “free trade” pacts without our consent.
Click here to send a letter or call (888) 966-9836 your member of Congress to tell them to oppose TPP and fast-track authority that would kill American jobs. Make sure our leaders know that for working families, so-called “free trade” agreements that put us at risk are not fair trade!