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BY EDWARD HENDERSON AND WILLIAM OSBORNE, PATERSON EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
This video, taken at an April 30 forum staged by Senate President Steve Sweeney, highlights the concerns of New Jersey public workers who are again having their pensions and health insurance put on the chopping block at the hands of the legislative leadership of this state.
In it Sweeney is asked “Why keep tapping into pensions? Has the government forgotten that it borrowed many millions and never paid it back, and when you speak of reducing benefits for public workers, which public workers are you talking about? Does this include police and firefighters?”
Steve Sweeney, we believe, all too readily answers the question by stating that “police and fire didn’t do what the other unions did. They didn’t change the amount of money they’re putting in, they didn’t change the retirement, they didn’t do any of the things the other unions did. So, by doing that, why should they be punished, if you’re saying punished…”
At which point the audience erupts and Sweeney futilely tries to backtrack and say “no one was being punished.” The message is out there loud and clear Mr. Sweeney. We didn’t play ball like you wanted, and now you intend to make us suffer for it. We absolutely believe firefighters and police deserve their full benefits and should not be subjected to the unwarranted cuts and “restructuring” you are peddling, but neither should any other state employee when the responsibility of this failure falls clearly on this state’s lack of adequate fiscal management and poor leadership.
Page one of the Sweeney commissioned “Path to Progress” proposal clearly states “this is a direct result of the failure of governors and legislatures of both parties to make the necessary pension payments.”
Yet, we, the public workers, are expected to fix the mistakes of bad leadership and their poor decision making. We are expected to give up what was promised in order to fix a system broken by this elected officials in Trenton.
We did not miss our payments. We did not borrow from the system. We, every day, do our jobs, take home less money, work more hours, and are once again expected to put ourselves through unfair fiscal constraints and an uncertain financial future because people like Steve Sweeney refuse to take onus for their own failures and fix the system they broke.
With this proposed pension reform, teachers with five or less years of employment will be put in a new, hybrid pension system that caps employee contributions, raising the retirement age (again), and effectively continue to deter the recruitment and retention of talented, dedicated classroom professional who are, once again, tired of being duped by New Jersey lawmakers.
In addition to this draconian attempt to rectify the state’s mishandling of its resident’s tax dollars, we are once again facing drastic changes to the health benefits promised us.
Teachers and other public workers enrolled in the system will be required to again switch plans leaving us with higher co-pays, higher out of network deductibles, and reduced coverage. This, after Sweeney’s botched attempt to fix rising healthcare costs in 2011 with his Chapter 78 law, that required state workers to pay more in an effort to fix, you guessed it, the “out of control costs in our state.”
We remind Senate President Sweeney that doubling down on broken plans is a terrible way to gamble, but it’s not his life, nor his livelihood he’s rolling the dice on, it’s ours.
No teacher gets into the profession to be rich. We understand the sacrifices we have to make. Promises are made, however, to encourage the people we should all want in the classroom to stay there, and those promises are not being kept.
Teachers are expected to teach because “they love what they do.” In fact, it is one of the only professions where our passion is used against us to guilt us into working more for less. Love and passion, however, do not keep our power on. They do not pay our mortgage, and they do not ensure our families’ welfare in times of need.
We have always been willing to take less, but we have already been played by the likes of Sweeney, and we have nothing left to give. Let us be clear, we have no grandiose ideas of financial success. We want what we are worth and we want what we are owed.
Sweeney’s consistent attack on the public workers in this state can not be allowed to continue. We are not the enemy. We fulfilled our promises, now it is time to hold those responsible accountable and demand they fix their errors properly, like adults.
We ask Mr. Sweeney to clear his own “Path to Progress” – it will not be done on the backs of citizens you have sworn to serve.