Happy New Year!
Inevitably, today's column about pensions for public-sector union workers will prompt questions about my union affiliation. So, let me answer them in advance.
I've been employed by the Strib for 11 of the past 12 years. I was dues-paying member of The Newspaper Guild for seven years. This included stints as a member of the contract negotiating team in 2003 and as unit chair in 2004 and '05, when I was promoted into management. During the summer of 2008 I was on management's contract negotiating team. [That contract was re-opened in 2009, during the paper's bankruptcy proceedings; I was not involved in any of those negotiations.]
Both the Guild and management pension plans at the Strib were "closed" in recent years, which means the benefits we've earned have been locked in and frozen. When I retire, my payout - which will not be adjusted for inflation - will be a combination of benefits earned as both a union and exempt employee. If the paper were ever to default on its pension obligations, some portion or all of those benefits would be protected by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, an insurance pool that all private employers with pensions pay into. PBGC insurance does not apply to public-sector pensions.
I rejoined the paper in October after a year away. Because of my roles as both a union and management negotiator, the company exercised a clause in the contract allowing it to exempt a limited number of hires from union membership. So, I am neither in the Guild nor part of management, though I am governed by the same work rules as Guild members regarding paid time off, furlough days, etc.
BTW, today's New York Times has a page 1 story about the public pensions that touches on some of the same themes in the column, which I completed Thursday.
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