THE BLOG

We Fight to Preserve Public Sector Pensions and an Honest Pact

02/25/2011 02:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's a reason why they call us public-service employees. We work hard to serve the public. It sounds simple, but it seems that people forget what we really do. Our towns, cities and states simply would not work if the roads were not cleaned and the streets were not policed.

Many public service jobs are not glamorous. People do them because they want to do honest work, make a decent living, contribute to society and have some financial security in retirement.

That is the deal between public service employees and the public they serve. Now, because of financial shortfalls in state budgets that workers did not cause, the government does not want to honor this agreement.

We must not forget that what is good for workers is good for America. It's true -- having quality public servants does have a cost. But that cost is well worth what the public receives in return.

Pensions are the backbone that allows this public service employee system to function. Municipal employees take care of the needs of the community -- many for their entire adult lives -- and forgo larger wage increases in order retire with dignity.

Private sector employees have made a different choice. Historically, they have made more money and have more chance for professional advancement than public employees. There are also more types of private sector positions that pay substantially more than even the most fortunate of government workers.

Today, many private sector employees have something called a Defined Contribution (DC) plan for their retirement, the most common of which is a 401(k). In exchange for higher salaries, they have to take more responsibility to save for and invest their own retirement. Public sector workers make less, but they receive a Defined Benefit (DB) plan, which guarantees specific monthly monetary payment and secures their income in the future.

This was not always the case. When unions represented a larger percentage of private sector workers, they also benefited from the security of defined benefit plans. The change to defined contributions has been disastrous for many workers. With the recent declines in the stock market, the values of 401(K) plans tanked, forcing many workers to put off retirement.

It is a myth, however, that public sector pensions are overly generous. The average public sector worker receives only $19,000 a year in pension payments.

Many people -- misinformed -- believe that public sector workers should be put into DC plans. That is wrong. Many public service employees count on their modest DB pensions to retire. It is our job to make the public and those in power understand this.

Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg use tough language to threaten layoffs and pension cuts as if they are only numbers on paper. These actions have all too real consequences. Without good pension benefits, who will come to monitor our children in schools? Who will maintain the facilities for the thousands of people who live in public housing?

Any time the economy is poor, people understandably become angry. In this case, people have been led to believe that government deficits are caused by public sector pensions. In fact, public employees solve many more problems than they cause.

Even in tough times, no person or politician can simply break a pact between the public and their workers that has lasted for generations. Unions are mobilizing to take our fight to the streets and the court of public opinion. That is a promise you can count on.