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Spring 2013

Pension plans face threats

by County and City Employee Writer on February 11, 2013

Council 2 saw several improvements passed into law when Christine Gregoire was governor. A major gain was the lowering of the retirement age for Plan 2 from 65 to 62 for 30-year employees.

Now that change and other aspects of our pension plans are under threat as the Washington State Legislature starts its 2013 session.

A major obstacle on the path ahead is the defection of two Democrats to the Republican Party. Their move changes the control of the state senate.

After the election, the line-up was 26 Democrats and 23 Republicans. But two Democrats, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, switched parties and decided to caucus with the Republicans, changing the line-up to 25-24 in favor of the Republicans.

“We strive to be non-partisan, but the truth is that when the majority goes to the Republicans the threats to our pensions are much higher,” explains Council 2 Deputy Director Pat Thompson.

Another obstacle is a decision by the Washington State Supreme Court last year that the state is not fully funding education. Education funding, which could run to $1.4 billion, is part of the overall budget package, which will face a $1 billion deficit.

“In the past, bills dealing with our pensions became tougher when they had to rely on a package deal,” Thompson explains. “The result is that these bills are held hostage until they reach a deal with both parties.”

The hopeful side is in the House where the Democrats have a much stronger working majority. “Our main hope is the new governor, Jay Inslee,” Thompson adds.

The constant drumbeat of employee bashing adds an additional threat for the union, Thompson adds.

“There is a growing movement to blame public sector workers no matter what sacrifices we make.

“The ultimate goal of these attacks isn’t just to weaken our union, it’s to eliminate us.

“But if you eliminate collective bargaining and union security, unions can’t survive.”

A key is to develop relationships with legislators even before measures are considered, Thompson says.

“When you do call on them when these measures are debated, they will know who you are.”He urges members to get to know their representatives and to put their issues before them now.