CalSTRS pensions analyzed in light of GOP attacks

Teachers do much better with defined benefit plans than 401(k)s
Most public school teachers working today count on traditional pensions — which guarantee a monthly income based on age, salary and years of service — as their main source of financial security in retirement.

For the 40 percent of teachers nationwide who aren’t covered by Social Security, a “defined benefit” pension plan — in which employer and employee contributions are invested in a professionally managed fund and governed by a board of trustees — provides their only source of guaranteed retirement income.

Now teachers across the country are facing aggressive attacks on their pensions by Republican politicians. In 2010, Michigan placed new teachers into a hybrid plan consisting of a significantly reduced pension and a mandatory 401(k)-type plan. In July, the state’s governor signed a bill that will direct most new teachers into just a 401(k). Pennsylvania recently passed a hybrid pension bill that pushes new teachers into 401(k)-only plans, and similar efforts are underway in other states.

Anti-pension advocates claim that eliminating guaranteed pensions is what’s best for teachers. They base this on dubious research, sponsored by anti-pension groups, that uses high attrition rates among entering teachers to claim that most teachers don’t stay in their jobs long enough to get a decent pension.

While it’s true that 40 percent of new teachers are likely to leave in the first five years, a recent study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center analyzed how long most teachers stay in the classroom in California based on CalSTRS demographic data for active teachers and on detailed actuarial studies on statewide teacher turnover.

The study, funded by CalSTRS, found that three of four teachers currently working in the state will put in at least 20 years before leaving, and half will put in 30 years or more. Nearly 9 out of 10 will stay until at least age 55, and the average classroom teacher will work into their 60s. Anti-pension researchers’ claims to the contrary, most classrooms in the state are occupied by long-term teachers. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show a majority of current teachers have made it past the period when most new teachers quit.

By the time most active teachers leave service, the Labor Center found, they will be far better off with their pensions than they would have been with 401(k)s. Their teacher longevity data compared current levels of CalSTRS benefits with the yield from an idealized 401(k) and found that 86 percent of working teachers in California will get higher retirement income from their existing defined benefit pension than they would from even a best-case-scenario 401(k).

In fact, a 401(k) plan would provide 40 percent less retirement income for the typical California classroom teacher compared with the current pension, which is consistent with rigorous studies in other states.

Traditional pensions attract recruits to the profession and keep experienced teachers in the classroom. Doing away with pensions will increase teacher attrition and, worse, severely diminish the retirement security of those who have already made a long-term commitment to California children.

>Summarized from an op-ed published by the UC Berkeley Labor Center titled, If someone tells you your kid’s teacher would be better off with a 401(k) than a pension, don’t believe it. Read and share the full-length article here

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Unions get full and timely access to new employees

New law leads to union negotiating rules for employee orientation

In April 2016, Julia Troche applied to be a lecturer in Egyptology at UCLA. “It was my alma mater as an undergrad, so this was a special position for me, a chance to give back to the institution that gave me so much,” she says. She’d received an email from the department chair of Near Eastern Language and Culture asking her to apply. “She told me there was no guarantee of continuing employment, but it would put me in a good place while I looked for a tenure-track appointment.”

An issue arose when the university told her that she had to sign the hiring paperwork in person. After the end of her previous teaching job, she’d joined her husband in Rhode Island. If she waited until UCLA’s semester started, she would have had no healthcare coverage for several months. In addition, she had to have an in-state address to qualify.

“I asked if there were any money for relocation, and was told there wasn’t,” she remembers. “So I flew to Los Angeles at my own expense and signed the paperwork.” She was able to find an apartment in just one day, but then had to pay rent while living in Rhode Island.

“It would have been good to speak to a union rep early in this process,” she believes, “and instead I only met someone after I’d been on campus. At that point the rep wanted me to sign up as a member, which I was happy to do, but it was too late to help me when I needed it.” She adds that she didn’t really understand what a union could do, and worried that there might be a stigma attached to asking it for help.

Troche’s experience concerns the University Council-AFT, the union for non-tenure track faculty and librarians in the UC system. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon.

UC-AFT does not currently receive notice from university management about newly hired employees until they have been on campus for several weeks — and then the data is often inaccurate.

Being able to contact newly hired employees is important because with the Janus v. AFSCME case, the new conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to strike down agency fees, which would invalidate the provision in the union’s contract requiring non-members to pay a fee for representation services.

To make it easier for the union to reach new hires, the governor this summer signed AB 119, which requires California’s public employers to provide unions mandatory access to new employees at orientation. It also requires them to promptly provide contact information for new and existing unit employees within 30 days of hiring, including name, job title, department, work location, work, home and personal cell phone numbers, personal email address and home address.

“The structure of the orientation, however, is crucial to us,” explains Mia McIver, UC-AFT’s chief negotiator. “Unlike other employees hired throughout the year, lecturers are hired in waves, at the beginning of each quarter.” The new law requires the university to negotiate the “structure, time and manner” of that access, and gave the administration and union 60 days to do it.

“We were ready in July,” McIver says, “but it took the university until September 26 to meet to exchange proposals. We weren’t surprised by what they gave us. It was virtually the same as they’d given to all the other unions on campus. This doesn’t take the special needs of our members seriously. Troche’s situation is a case in point.”

The union is asking for in-person (not just online) orientations within two weeks of the start of every term, given by HR personnel trained in the requirements of union-university agreements, with time for questions and answers. “We also want an hour for a union presentation, without the chilling presence of university administrators,” McIver adds. “The university is offering 20 minutes, with all the UC unions presenting together in some great cacophony.”

The union for many years has had difficulty trying to contact new hires in person — a key element in efforts to sign up new members in a post-fair share era. “We’re spread over a wide geographic area,” explains John Rundin, who teaches classics at UC Davis. “It’s hard to find people who might just teach one class, and who come to work with no idea that a union even exists on campus.”

In the past, the university management has been notorious for providing lists Rundin calls “old, bad and inaccurate.” Now AB 119 calls for more accurate and timely contact information.

“Under the law, we’re required to represent all members of the bargaining unit,” Rundin says. “This is actually an opportunity to build a stronger union.”

—By David Bacon, CFT Reporter

Quest for fair accreditation ends in union victory

CFT and ACCJC agree on key points in legal settlement

Since the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges made its appalling decision to terminate City College of San Francisco’s accreditation four years ago, AFT Local 2121, the faculty union there, and the CFT have fought back through legislation, lawsuits, political pressure and protests.

In August, those years of fighting paid off when the ACCJC agreed to key policy changes in exchange for the CFT dropping its lawsuit against the agency.

The lawsuit was filed in September 2013 after the ACCJC’s decision to revoke City College’s accreditation. The CFT sought an injunction to keep the college open, which was granted through a separate lawsuit filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. In addition, that ruling determined that the ACCJC broke several laws by terminating the college’s accreditation.

The CFT lawsuit also sought to end the commission’s violation of its own rules and the rule of law, and stop its punitive, arbitrary, and inconsistent behavior that created fear in colleges around the state and adversely affected them — including Compton College, which remained without accreditation for more than a decade.

A significant turning point was the commission getting new leadership, with controversial President Barbara Beno being placed on leave and Richard Winn stepping in, says CFT’s Community College Council President Jim Mahler.

“Winn made a lot of public promises and the commission was able to make some dramatic changes that benefited all parties,” Mahler said. “This is more how things should be in a normal world, not the Spanish Inquisition world that Beno had created.”

Winn came to a meeting of the Community College Council in Sacramento last March where he listened to several hours of faculty members airing their frustrations with the agency and how its policies had hurt their schools and students, in what members present jovially referred to as a “piñata party.”

Mahler calls the new agreement fantastic and a huge deal, not just for the union, but for the entire community college system. 

Policy changes include the ACCJC not interfering with the collective bargaining process, recommending the elimination of student learning outcomes in evaluations, and having at least three active duty faculty members on evaluation teams. Asked what changes were particularly important to him, Mahler is succinct: “All of them.”

For attorney Eileen Goldsmith, who worked on the agreement, the ACCJC’s promise to stay out of negotiations is particularly significant.

“As anyone who’s been following this knows, the process the ACCJC used to review colleges was both very unfair to colleges and really interfering with collective bargaining,” Goldsmith said. “They’re going to take a more holistic approach to finances. It’s legitimate to raise concern in how a college manages money, but it’s up to the college how it addresses that — you can’t be told you have to put a certain amount in reserves or in a trust because that has an obvious effect on collective bargaining.”

She agrees with Mahler that the change in administration at the ACCJC had a big impact. Goldsmith credits the CFT as well as AFT Local 2121 with the agreement. 

“The union campaign on all fronts — with the public, with the state, with the litigation back in D.C. with the Department of Education — was very effective in pushing ACCJC to make reforms that should have been made a long time ago,” Goldsmith said. “The people at 2121 were tireless and incredibly dedicated and worked incredibly hard to get this. The union put a tremendous amount of effort into this campaign, and obviously it paid off.”

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter

The best graduation gift for Compton College

Compton’s Jose Bernaudo says he’s thrilled with the changes to ACCJC policies. “We’re very pleased to see the agreement,” said the secretary for the Compton Federation of Employees. “If these policies had been in place, especially the ones about not being able to tell a college what to do with their finances and having working faculty on the team, we wouldn’t have lost accreditation in the first place.”

The ACCJC revoked Compton’s accreditation in 2005. This June Compton got it back.

“They announced it at graduation and we were ecstatic,” Bernaudo said. “It changed the environment here — it’s much more positive. We really want to thank CFT for supporting us.”

Local President Rashid Yahye is also grateful.“This was a huge victory for the community who suffered a lot of injustice because of this,” he said.

Compton stayed open by becoming a satellite campus of El Camino College in Torrance. They are glad to have their independence back, Bernaudo says.

“It’s autonomy,” he concluded. “We can make own decisions regarding curriculum and programs and finances. Because the union stood up and fought, we got our accreditation returned earlier than we would have otherwise.”

Legislature sends governor bill to include noon duty aides in classified service

Current law exempts part-time playground employees from classified status if they don’t also hold a second position in the same school district. Legislation now on the governor’s desk, however, would include part-timers who don’t have a second job.

AB 670 by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) would help about 1,500 “noon dutys” statewide.

“Part-time playground employees work side by side with classified employees performing similar duties,” Thurmond said. “They deserve the same protection and benefits as classified employees.”

Part-timers and staff perform similar duties, from monitoring students during breakfast and lunch, to keeping peace on the monkey bars. Job titles vary from playground supervisor to noon duty aide, but most noon dutys — as they are often referred to for short — are women working five days a week for two or three hours. They are often the lowest paid employees on campus.

In 2002, Gov. Gray Davis signed AB 2849, a CFT-sponsored bill that opened the door to classified status for many part-timers who were also working another staff position.

AB 670 would cost California school districts less than $1 million yearly. The governor has until October 15 to sign the bill.

Sacramento doubles down on teacher credentialing program for classified

In 2016, the CFT co-sponsored legislation to establish a teacher credentialing program for classified employees, and the 2016-17 state budget included $20 million to fund the campaign for five years.

The California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program currently provides grants to school districts and county offices of education to provide 1,000 classified public school employees up to $4,000 per year to earn four-year degrees and credentials.

The CFT, responding to overwhelming demand, advocated for more funds. As a result, the 2017-18 state budget provides $25 million for the second year of the program, making it the state’s largest investment to address the teacher shortage.

Each year, growing numbers of classified staff and paraeducators earn teaching credentials. In the process they are raising their income, diversifying faculty ranks, and helping to fill the teaching shortage.

Economic factors discourage returning students. Under the program created by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), districts and county offices that apply for and receive grants notify classified employees that funds are available. Districts then award grants for tuition and books to applicants.

When educators can’t afford to live where they work

Housing crisis hits teachers and staff in urban and rural areas
Last year, Veronica Juarez, a peer education coach and middle-school teacher in San Francisco for more than 20 years, was living in the city with her mom and two kids. Now, after an owner move-in eviction, she and her 10-year-old son, Rio, are living in a couple rooms and limited kitchen access. Her mom moved back to Mexico, and her daughter, in college at Long Beach, will stay there.

“It basically split us up,” Juarez said. “Now, I’m just trying to save money to move out of state.”
Hilltop High School’s school nurse, Susan Kitchell, also had to move because of an owner move-in eviction. She found another place to rent in San Francisco, with half the room for twice the price.

Kitchell, 65, found looking for an apartment disheartening.

“It’s a sad state of affairs. Every third or fourth person I speak to has a housing story,” she said. “The paraprofessionals are among the lowest paid in the area. I know people in their 30s, married with a baby, who have roommates.”

To help their members in San Francisco’s housing market, the United Educators of San Francisco has been working for years on dedicated housing. In surveys, a majority of members has expressed interest in such housing. On September 12, the district school board voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the mayor’s office to build housing for teachers and paras.

“It’s projected to have about 140 apartments,” said President Lita Blanc, “with about 40 percent for income levels of $40,000, so those would work for our paraeducators. Others would be available for midcareer teachers. It’s a step in the right direction.”

Outside San Francisco, educators are feeling the same pinch. Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers Secretary Sarah Burkhart, a social science teacher at Washington Middle School in Salinas, sees rents in the semi-rural area being driven up by people escaping the expense of San Jose. Burkhart, 28, had two roommates last year, and when rent went up, they moved back in with their parents. Looking for a new place, she found many had long waiting lists. Finally, Burkhart found an 800-square-foot apartment that she can barely afford at $1400.

“It can be really tight,” she said. “If I get a nail in my tire, I’m living off ramen. I’m a professional and I have a career, but there are still months I don’t know if I’m going to make it.”

Salinas President Steve McDougall says things started getting bad for teachers during the recession and it’s grown worse.

“In order to survive in Monterey County, you need to make over $50,000 a year,” he said. “New teachers can’t afford to live here.”

United Teachers Los Angeles AFT Vice President Juan Ramirez sees the same thing. “Here in LA, I can see where it’s affecting the teaching profession,” he said. “My daughter and son-in-law are both teachers, and they can’t afford to buy a home.”

Katherine Klein, a fourth grade teacher at Sherman Elementary School in San Francisco considers herself lucky. She lives with her husband and child in a rent-controlled apartment. Even so, teachers’ salaries are still an issue.

“My cousin and I started teaching at the same time,” Klein said. “We have the same education and years of service. He lives in Riverside and makes $108, 000 a year. I make $70,000, and live in a city where it costs $1.5 million for a house.”

With 10 percent of teachers leaving every year, the affordability crisis is at the heart of current negotiations, where Blanc says UESF is focused on getting the biggest salary increase possible. Meanwhile, they are working on other ways to address it, including down payment assistance and a hotline to an attorney for teachers facing eviction, along with the dedicated housing.

Blanc notes the cost of housing development won’t come out of funds directed to salaries, with the district contributing a former school site and the city paying for construction.

“But it’s a drop in the bucket,” Blanc said. “We’re in full organizing mode and fighting for affordable housing for everybody.”

—By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter

Thurmond bill calls for school employee housing

Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) carried AB 45, which would provide financial assistance to K-12 districts seeking to develop rental housing for school employees. The CFT-sponsored bill passed out of the Legislature and is on the governor’s desk.

“Housing for school employees is a big need in our state,” said Thurmond, who is also the CFT-endorsed candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction race next year. “This bill will go a long way to help recruit and retain quality teachers in California.”

According to the Learning Policy Institute, 75 percent of California schools report a shortage of teachers. Housing models to address this shortage have been used throughout the nation.

Local Wire, Sep-Oct 2017

Successful Petaluma strike lands teachers 
contract four months later

LOCAL 1881
Nearly four months after hundreds of teachers and other certificated employees in Petaluma City Schools walked picket lines on May 24 to protest the administration’s unfair labor practices and policies harmful to quality education, the union won a contract on September 18.

“The regressive bargaining of the administration, in which they repudiated a class size limit that we had already agreed to, was the last straw,” said Sandra Larsen, president of the Petaluma Federation of Teachers. “Increasing class sizes is not the way to achieve a quality education in Petaluma schools.”

Larsen reported that 94 percent of teachers went out on strike on May 24. Since then, Petaluma teachers have been “working to rule” and the union visited all worksites in the district. “We’re strong and the district knows we mean business,” Larsen concluded.

High school science teacher Lee Boyes said she participated in the strike to encourage fair labor practices. Boyes wanted to move forward this school year “with a better environment for teaching and learning.”

No classes were held at most sites, while students were brought together in large groups, tended by substitutes. Many parents walked the strong picket lines in support of the teachers and came to a noon rally with their children.

Teachers were clear about why they were picketing. “I’m sick and tired of this toxic environment created by 16 months of minimal negotiation progress, lack of respect, and all the unfair labor practices that feel intentional and mean-spirited,” said Elyse Vossburg, a speech therapist.

Said elementary Spanish teacher Jennie Eubank, “We need to act now or we can expect this same negative experience throughout all our future negotiations.”

Members of Local 1881 were joined at a spirited rally in front of the district administration offices and a march to Walnut Park by parents, community supporters and members of other unions.

This was the first walkout the Petaluma Federation has staged since its founding in 1969.

LOCAL 4986
The Sacramento Jobs Corps Union got more good news when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision that its employer had violated the National Labor Relations Act when it banned the union president from the training center and refused to hire five incumbent employees to avoid bargaining with the union. The local received pro bono support from AFL-CIO Legal Department.

United Educators of San Francisco is boosting member activism and parent outreach during its contract campaign. The union visited 69 sites in the district and is posting member support photos from worksites on Facebook. 

LOCAL 3467
The El Rancho Federation of Teachers expanded its union strength when it welcomed previously unrepresented mental health workers and program specialists into its unit before bargaining a new salary structure to benefit all. 

LOCAL 1966
A team of UC-AFT Riverside librarians met with library administrators to negotiate the effects of a planned reorganization and reached an agreement that provides notice for changes in work location, preserves the right to negotiate over unforeseen effects of the reorganization, and retains work within the bargaining unit.