Local 521 members speak up at state pension hearing

Protect pensions and collective bargaining

Rachel Grocha-Welch and Bob Sigala at pension hearing

Rachel Grocha-Welch and Bob Sigala at pension hearing

Gov. Jerry Brown made a surprise visit Dec. 1 before a Legislative conference committee that was holding a hearing about his 12-point pension reform plan. But it was an impassioned speech from a union representative—urging retirement security for all—that drew the only applause during the five-hour-long public hearing.

“I clapped, I didn’t care if they were going to throw me out,” said SEIU Local 521 member Rachel Grocha-Welch, who came to the state Capitol to deliver her own speech before the legislators: “Pensions are a negotiated benefit. No one size can fit all, and yet that’s what the governor is proposing.”

Rachel Grocha-Welch at podium

Rachel Grocha-Welch at podium

Rachel and Local 521 retiree member Bob Sigala contributed their remarks during the public comment period, following presentations from a number of associations that had been invited to provide their analysis of the governor’s proposal.

SEIU 521 and virtually all union groups oppose three key elements in Brown’s proposal:

  • Mandating an “equal sharing of pension costs.”
  • “Hybrid risk-sharing pension”;
  • Increases in retirement ages.

Read Rachel’s and Bob’s letters, submitted to the committee Thursday, that outline our objections to Brown’s proposal (PDF documents).

Governor Brown

Governor Brown at the pension hearing

Nearly all presenters, including an analyst from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, and those representing public employers, questioned the merits of the governor’s plan and its dangerous trespass into the territory of collective bargaining and vested rights of workers.

Click here for the Gov.’s 12-point pension reform (PDF).

“I think the private sector is getting screwed,” because 401(k)-style investments evaporated during the Wall Street collapse, said the committee’s co-chairman Assembly Member Warren Furutani. “But that doesn’t mean the solution is to screw the public sector.”

The committee, made up of both Democratic and Republic legislators, is tasked with putting forth pension reform recommendations that would be voted on by the full Legislature. Thursday’s hearing was its second session; more will be scheduled.

So far, both Furutani (D-Gardenia) and co-chair Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino), have publicly said they believe public workers—after years of service—deserve an adequate pension plan.

Said Furutani: “Retiring in dignity—that is as American as you can get. We need to defend that. We need to fight for it.”

See media coverage: Sacramento Bee

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