Sunday, October 25, 2020
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Pension Heist by Ellen Schultz
The book Pension Heist by Wall Street Journal reporter Ellen Schultz was written about how corporations and hedge funds have raided the pensions of workers at a time when the state was coming hard to cut the teachers' pensions.
The year was 2011 - the apex of education corporate reform and Common Core and Race to the Top. All the billionaire funded non-profit groups like TeachPlus and Educators in Excellence in the name of helping were telling teachers they had to give up their defined benefit pensions like our brothers and sisters working in corporations.
What Schultz tells us is that the money corporations stole from the workers pensions funds was diverted to pay the pension and health benefits to the CEOs. That is why this country today is looking so gross with multi-billionaires like Amazon Jeff Bezos worth $200 billion and the federal minimum wage is still $7.25.
It's sick and unsustainable!
Corporate worker pensions were once well-funded like city and state worker pension funds, even earning a surplus. Corporations saw they could take this money, being deceptive, and use it to spend on themselves - increasing bloated executive salaries, or in the Chicago teachers case, taking the money for teachers' pensions and diverting it to privatization schemes like charter schools and more testing.
It's ironic, and sad, to hear about an IBM worker who was a true blooded Republican and Vietnam War vet, who once he saw his pension was being raided wanted to join a union.
This book is a cautionary tale because the Chicago Teachers's Pension Fund is funded at less than 50 percent, whereas more than 15 years ago it was funded almost 90 percent.
Political hacks like Mike Madigan tried to cut our pension benefits on behalf of his corporate sponsors, but the Illinois Constitution prevented this. It says politicians cannot do anything to harm the pensions of state workers.
However, that is also what the federal law says, you cannot harm the pensions of workers.
So how did the corporations destroy their workers' pensions?
They hired consultants to fool people. You send a letter to your employees telling them you are pleased to announce that you will significantly enhance the pension program and make the retirement program "highly competitive," - which means the company froze the workers pensions without them knowing about it. You don't provide information. And if someone asks about it, and wants answers when they figure out they're getting screwed, you fire them! Easy cheesy when there's no union!
The funny story was Deloitte & Touche, a giant accounting firm, that tried to pass off a cash-balance plan that would lower their workers' pensions; however, their workers are financial experts who weren't fooled, and they raised a stink. The company had to back off, and eventually grandfathered the older workers. Something the state and CPS want to do as well!
If you can't lower your retired employees pensions, then you make them pay for their health care costs. Suddenly, your pension shrinks paying for a subsidy that the company promised to pay when you retired.
"While federal law dictates that companies can't cut pensions that have already been earned, this is not the case for health plans. That is, unless the benefits were protected by a union contract (and sometimes not even then), companies could pull the plug on benefits that employees, including retirees, had already earned."
|Author Ellen Schultz|
Companies were able to declare bankruptcy and terminate their pension plans. Chapter 11 bankruptcy gives banks and creditors priority over employees and retirees and vendors.
Another tactic is to fire hundreds of thousands of middle-aged workers just when their pensions are poised to spike. The way the city does this is to put more demands and stress on teachers, forcing them to retire early and thus lose out on a better pension if they could work longer.
Here's a funny actuary joke about the people hired to divert workers pensions to bloated CEO compensation packages. A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is interviewing for a benefits consultant and asks the accountant what is 2 + 2, and he answers 4. But the actuary says, 'what do you want it to be?' And he gets the job.
Actuaries have been used to help companies figure out how much to put into their pensions, but in the last 30 years or so they now help employers turn pension plans into profit centers. The law says you can't cut pensions, but you can slow their growth.
How good are these guys? One benefits consultant suggested the company establish an offshore company responsible for the retirees, but not accountable under U.S. law and have it go bankrupt and thus terminate the plans, while another one said to simply terminate the benefits, wait for the retirees to sue, and then drag out the litigation until the retirees gave up and died. The author documents several of these cases.
One company got its workers to transfer their retirement to a new program called "Project Sunshine," saying if they switched their benefits would stay the same. 1500 employees switched and then the company on purpose went bust, and so did the retirees' medical coverage. The CEO toasted the collapse, saying he felt good unloading a loser (believe me there are no happy endings for these guys!).
Ellen Schultz the author must eat crow when she wrote, "the odds of winning a benefits case are about on par with the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series." Five years later in 2016 - Cubs Win! But workers and pensions?
How bad is it? Lucent was able to get a $230 million gain from taking their workers' pensions and in 2004 awarded their CEO Patricia Russo a $1.95 million bonus on top of her $1.2 million salary, $4.6 million in restricted stock, plus $4.8 million in options, and after only 2 years, her compensation was worth $44 million. Many of her workers on pensions can barely get by!
We've reversed Robin Hood here - companies and governments beholden to the capitalists rob from the poor to pay the rich!
It's very profitable to rob from the older workers. IBM gained $3 billion from cutting their retirees benefits, which one CEO earns a sweet $3.2 million a year pension. Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the second largest natural gas provider in the U.S., has earned a compensation of $156 million in 3 years and is owed $120 million in pension benefits, while his employees have no pensions. By 2008 executives were receiving one-third of all pay at U.S. companies.
"The most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income," Goldman Sachs economists wrote.
The book ends on a sickening note about how the NFL has screwed over the football players, including the best inducted into the Hall of Fame, from getting benefits for disabilities despite clear evidence that the players were disabled after playing this violent sport that turned them into invalids. Check out the story of Mike Webster. It made me want to puke!
"The real problem with pensions isn't 'volatility.' It's that the accounting rules enable employers to gamble with retirees' money and then shift the risk to them."
That is exactly what has happened to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and many other funds!
By the way, the 401(k) many workers have is a scam. It was never intended to be savings vehicle for the rank-and-file. Employers have taken advantage of loopholes in the discrimination rules to exclude millions of low-paid workers and make it hard to join the plan and build benefits. Many companies have continued to manage 401(k)s for the benefit of the highly paid. Also, the author notes that at some companies the percentage of the employers stock is dangerously high which would get a money manager at any regular fund fired! Enron was one example of how the 401(k) killed its employees.
There really is no solution here, and the author is a realist, so she doesn't offer a silly one. She just warns correctly that this country is headed back in time to before the 1930s when pensions were first written into corporate and government contracts due to major organizing and communist threats. Society will pay to support millions of elderly, formerly middle class Americans, if something doesn't change.
Monday, October 19, 2020
CPS Decision to Send Teachers Into Burning Buildings Insane!
|Almost all the children and teenagers who died of Covid-19 were Black or Hispanic.|
Mayor Lori Lightfoot decided to listen to the business community and start sending teachers and students back into the classroom starting next month with the Pre-K and Special Education Cluster.
The Pre-K teachers we spoke with are infuriated and don't know what to do. The Chicago Teachers Union has vowed to fight and held a special tele-town meeting October 18 to discuss options, which include rallying resistance. Even though Covid-19 is spreading, more people are getting sick and in some areas of the city there is a 20 percent positive rate of getting infected (almost all children and teenagers who died of Covid were either Black or Hispanic according to Business Insider).
A poll indicated 93 percent of the teachers who responded in a survey during the conference said they want to fight this latest attempt by the mayor to force children and teachers back into buildings while the virus rages. The union said only 10 percent of the buildings have up to code ventilation.
This is what one Pre-K teacher wrote:
Sunday, October 18, 2020
MOSCOW IS HIT AGAIN!
The number of infected from Covid-19 rapidly rises
Friday, October 16, 2020
DAY OF THE TEACHER
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
There are 52,000 Plus Homeless Children in Illinois:
Some Solutions for CPS Students
By Thomas Hansen, Ph.D.
The results of being homeless, moving from school to school, and not knowing where they are going to sleep are clear on children: “Continuously falling behind in education makes children experiencing homelessness four times more likely to show slow development, and two times more likely to have learning disabilities” (https://atlantamission.org/the-impact-of-homelessness-on-education/#:~:text=Continuously%20falling%20behind%20in%20education%20makes%20children%20experiencing,affects%20the%20child%E2%80%99s%20social%20development%20and%20their%20self-esteem.). This in turn negatively impacts the child’s social development and their self-esteem. A huge number of students nationwide face the challenges of homelessness – and many students in Illinois face those difficult challenges also.
The 2017-18 Illinois school data from the US Department of Education shows “that an estimated 52,978 public school students experienced homelessness over the course of the year” (https://www.usich.gov/homelessness-statistics/il/). On that web page, we learn also that the numbers divide out, showing “467 students were unsheltered, 5,140 were in shelters, 2,037 were in hotels/motels, and 44,875 were doubled up.” Let’s break this down and look at what those terms mean—the “nitty-gritty” of the total 52,000 plus kids in Illinois who do not have a home.
“Unsheltered” means there are children and young adults who are sleeping somewhere that is not meant to be a domicile, not meant to be slept in or on. Examples are: dumpsters, abandoned cars, alleys, buses and trains, back corner of an all-night diner, back room of a hardware store that is closed for the night. That such locations can be terribly unsafe is an understatement.
Why these spots for sleeping? In some cases, children, and/or their parents, prefer such locations for sleeping for privacy issues. Sometimes, the family is avoiding going to a shelter because they have had a bad experience there. In other cases, homeless persons are not aware of other options because of language or cultural differences. In still other cases, persons are avoiding certain people (e.g., a father who is attempting to find the mother to harm her and the children are swept up in the mix, or a parent who is trying to kidnap children away from the other adult, or a parent is hiding the children from people who want to separate the family or harm the unit in some other way).
Note that most of these (all of these?) locations have no bathroom, no sinks, no showers for the people to use. The children, therefore, travel the city often with unkempt hair, dirty clothes, no showered body. The “grime” is not chosen but is rather a result – and a symptom – of living in conditions that are less than ideal.
“Shelters” are locations—funded and managed through a variety of organizations and agencies—where homeless families, children, and adults spend the night. These locations are meant to provide sleeping, bathing, and toiletry accommodations for persons. This is the standard place homeless people are referred to. Said one homeless person I asked about shelters, “some are not terrible, others are not great, but I am still afraid to go.” When I pressed Alice (not her real name) for more information, she explained that in a huge city like Chicago there is too much chaos involved. “I just will never go,” insisted Alice.
“Motels and hotels” that are inexpensive do actually exist within and near the city. They range in cleanliness and affordability, of course. Some attempt to not allow homeless people to book and secure rooms in them. Homeless people will tell you of the huge discrimination out there, of the dirty looks from the bus drivers who see the passengers attempt to board with several bags, and the typical responses like “We have no more rooms open for the night.”
“Doubled up” means there is an “extra” family living in the house or apartment. Some family member opens their home to a sibling’s partner or spouse and children. Sometimes the extra people wind up sleeping in the basement and make areas or “rooms” there among boxes or old furniture. Sometimes the extra people sleep on the couch and are gone each morning when the main family wakes up and heads to the kitchen for breakfast. Still other times, the extra people live in an extra bedroom or den or a porch. In some neighborhoods that tent you see in the backyard is not for kids to play in… in summer months there might be two parents and two children sleeping there.
There are in fact various ways to get help. There are many good resources available, but families must go from one agency to another to find them. One agency might provide housing options and a clinic, another offering food, another clothing, and still another offering counseling and job services. What happens to the children? How do they survive? Find food? Find education?
This is a huge national problem. In New York City schools, for example, most recent figures show almost 21,000 homeless students there. These students lag behind other students and have difficulties getting their homework done and learning to function socially and academically. It has also been “found that homeless students achieve proficiency on New York State standardized tests at roughly half the rate of housed students” (https://www.voa-gny.org/impact-of-homelessness-on-education).
What about in in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) specifically? There were 16,451 homeless CPS students during the 2018-19 school year, the most recent period for which data is available. Solutions vary—and CPS parents are hoping the new mayor will do many of the things she said she would do. For example, she said she would make taking care of homeless people – including children – a priority of her administration.
CPS has an actual policy for assisting and educating homeless students in its schools (https://policy.cps.edu/download.aspx?ID=128). Homeless students must receive free education just as housed students must.
One plan that has emerged from intensive discussions about homeless students in Chicago – and wound up also in the CTU Contract – is the idea of hiring homeless advocates for CPS students https://www.chicagohomeless.org/homeless-student-advocate-positions-now-open-at-14-chicago-public-schools/). In this program, run by the Office of Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) advocates for homeless students in 14 different buildings are providing a variety of essential services (https://www.cps.edu/services-and-supports/crisis-support/students-in-temporary-living-situations/). Schools with more than 75 students who appeared to be STLS kids are the buildings with funds for the advocate positions.
How do students get the special services? There are a variety of ways, according to Claire Bohmann, Resource and Training Coordinator for the STLS Program. Bohmann explained that some students or parents may notify the STLS advocate about the living situation, or a teacher or other staff person may notify the STLS advocate of a student's living situation. There are also liaisons and other school staff who “are trained to recognize signs of homelessness and proactively identify students in temporary living situations and offer services,” according to Bohmann.
How many students in CPS have been receiving the services from the STLS Program? Bohamnn states, “Last school year there were 13,843 students enrolled in the STLS program across the District.” She goes on to explain that there is no data available yet for this school year. There are several high schools where the STLS Program works, including Bowen, Clemente, and Fenger.
The STLS Program provides assistance in removing barriers faced by STLS kids. These include providing transportation, school uniforms, school supplies, fee waivers, and referrals to community resources. To find out if students and their family members are eligible for STLS services, contact the STLS Liaison at your school. Every CPS school, including charter schools and options schools, has an STLS Liaison. For other questions about the STLS Program, please call 773-553-2242, or fax at 773-553-2182, or email STLSInformation@cps.edu.
The idea that there are so many children who are homeless might make you wonder just how great the economy is. The numbers and the reality of homelessness in Chicago and the rest of Illinois are alarming concepts. However, the good news is now there are policies and solutions in place for helping homeless kids to get them on track to succeed in school and in life.
Saturday, October 10, 2020
Delegates Endorse Biden & Harris at HOD
By Jim Vail
|The CTU endorsed Joe Biden & Kamala Harris |
for President and Vice President.
The Chicago Teachers Union delegates voted 89 percent - 11 percent in favor of endorsing Joe Biden (D) for President against Donald Trump at the October 7 House of Delegates meeting.
The first delegate speaker questioned why the CTU would want to endorse someone who championed the 1994 Crime Bill which gave rise to the racist attacks by law enforcement on black people and who is against Medicare for All. Another delegate said candidates should earn an endorsement, and Biden who teamed up with President Barack Obama and Arne Duncan to viciously attack public education and teachers unions and promote charter schools under the Race to the Top program did not earn that right.
But other delegates said the CTU endorsement was important to help defeat the openly racist and some would say borderline fascist leader in the White House who refuses to denounce white supremacy.
"This endorsement is very important to stop a fascist takeover," said Beatrice Lumpkin, a 102-year-old retired teacher delegate whose photo of her voting in complete anti-Covid gear was the talk of social media tweets and retweets.
Lumpkin always implores her fellow delegates to vote for the democrats, marking a time when unions and democrats were once a solid team. Fewer than 10 percent of American workers are members of a union today, resulting in a catastrophic income gap.
CTU VP Stacy Davis Gates, who always jumps into a conversion she feels needs her direction, said that the teaching force in Chicago has become more white, so the ticket with VP candidate Kamala Harris, a black female, is important.
"This is about survival," she said. "Trump has to go."
In her opening speech to the delegates, Gates said it is up to white women in the unions to vote out a president who is making a "mockery of our country."
President Jesse Sharkey stated once again that if teachers can stay out of the building, to stay out.
"I understand it can be convenient, but if you can stay out, stay out because we are in a fight with the board to stay out," he said on video camera.
Union officials cannot say whether or not the Chicago Public Schools will reopen schools in November, but they are dead set against it. Sharkey noted that 100 schools in New York City had to shut down after students and teachers were hit with the Covid-19 Virus.
Sharkey said it is worrying that CPS refuses to bargain with the union.
"Members shall work under safe conditions," he said. "What does that tell us about CPS to keep our workers at home and CPS won't bargain with us. They are undermining our ability to stay out of the buildings until it is safe."
The CTU is against going back to the classroom because the virus is still present and is predicted to get worse as winter approaches. The union won a grievance that stated the clinicians like clerks and speech pathologists should not go back to the schools, but CPS does not want to follow the ruling.
The union said the teachers should have more remote learning PD and planning and less online screen time for the students.
Sharkey said there are lot of privacy issues with google and online learning and he believes CPS is in agreement. He said teachers do not have to record their sessions, and who's to say google is not recording instructors in order to train AI to do what we do. He said teachers should know when an administrator is observing their online instruction, and to report to the union if they are being watched or observed without their knowledge.
Chris Baehrend with the charter division said Acero (formerly UNO Charter) layed off 26 of their 52 special education teachers, not because of funding, but because they had no work.
CTU political coordinator Kurt Hilgendorf, who made his presentation alongside his toddler, stated once again it is important that all CTU members vote Yes to change the Illinois Constitution so that a Fair Tax, or graduated income tax, is implemented. Multi-billionaires like Ken Griffin, the richest man in Illinois, has spent more than $20 million attack ads to vote against the measure that would tax him and others who make more than a million dollars a year. Griffen had asked former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to close 150 Chicago public schools. The former mayor then closed 50 schools in 2013, the largest school closings in the history of the country.