Protect Your Pension

Retirement Security for Public Employees – A Bargain That Works

Attacks on teachers, firefighters, nurses and other dedicated public employees have galvanized working families in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and other states. At the same time, the Koch Brothers and other right-wing funders have attacked private-sector unionization, seeking to expand so-called “right to work” laws, enact “Paycheck Deception” and gut the National Labor Relations Board.

Soon, the fight will come to the Texas Legislature. Certain business interests are coming after the retirement security of working families. They want to get their mitts on what one labor-friendly commentator calls “the Mississippi of cash flows” – employee retirement money – and convert state and local pensions into a 401(k)-style program that increases workers’ risk.



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“I think the state needs to get the hell out of this (pension) business completely," Bill King, who formed “Texans for Public Pension Reform,” told the Austin American-Statesman. (Another “pension reform” organizer operating at a national level, John Arnold, is a former Enron trader from Texas.) King appears to have company in launching a drive to persuade the Texas Legislature to drastically reduce pension benefits when lawmakers meet in 2013.

Working families have a few things to say about those who would end Texas pensions as we know them:

Bullet It’s the Workers’ Money – A large percentage of the Teacher Retirement System, the Employees Retirement System and other public employee pension funds – in most cases, half or more – comes from the workers themselves in the form of deductions from their paychecks and pooled investment of their contributions. Many who suggest pensions are an outdated “perk” keep citing “unaffordable” numbers that include personal investments by workers themselves;

Bullet Texas Is Not in Trouble – While some states have not managed their pension systems well, Texas has kept state retiree plans on a solid footing, even during the worst recessions. Though the Legislature could and should do more and a small number of local exceptions may need shoring up, Texas pension funds are in virtually all cases fully capable of paying promised benefits to all participants;

Bullet The State Should Not Pin All the Risk on Workers – Traditional pension plans with guaranteed benefits can be likened to a secure foundation for senior Texans. A 401(k)-style plan can crumble whenever the stock market plummets in a big way. The state should share risk with retirees.

Bullet Pensions Are Part of a Larger Bargain – State and local workers already make less than their counterparts in the private sector, and job and retirement security are supposed to narrow the gap. The Texas “safety net” is very modest; for example, retired teachers get an average of less than $22,000 a year in pension money.

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Bullet Who Benefits? The current pension system offers public employees an opportunity for a more solid retirement and benefits taxpayers by encouraging talented workers into public service and allowing retirees to contribute to the economy. Conversion to a 401(k)-style system would deliver massive amounts of new fees to financial interests that have not always acted responsibly.

In short, the notion of blowing up state and local pension systems is a solution in search of a problem. The funds that benefit teachers, fire fighters, nurses and others engaged in public service fulfill an important public purpose. Instead of attacking the retirement security of public employees, lawmakers should be fighting to improve retirement security for all workers, public and private. If you agree, the Texas AFL-CIO and allies ask for your commitment to join the fight to preserve retirement security for dedicated public servants in Texas.

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