Pension Concern Serious
The excellent article by Louisa C. Brinsmade on the pension woes of school employees [Vol. 16, No. 25] needs clarification on one point attributed to me and also demands a reply to a charge leveled against my organization but left unanswered.
First, here's the point I didn't make clearly enough: Recent and much-deserved benefit gains for those already retired have left no room, under the 31-year TRS "unfunded liability" cap, for any major improvement in pensions for the 625,000 currently active school employees. It's as if your banker told you to forget about applying for a second mortgage to improve your home, because you already had all the mortgage debt you could reliably pay off on a 30-year note, judging by your current income and assets.
Second, your article quotes Rep. Rob Junell to the effect that TFT's case for restoring state TRS funding and improving benefits is based on a "lie." I am sure that Mr. Junell is hewing to the truth as he sees it, and he is certainly adept at spotting and denouncing fiscal sleight-of-hand, such as that involved in the "shell game" of dedicating lottery revenue for education. But there is nothing devious about the claim we make regarding TRS benefits, which is simply this: When the legislature cut the state's contribution rate to TRS in 1995, $400 million was diverted from the school employees' pension fund. That diversion precluded long-overdue pension improvements for 625,000 active school employees. If this cut in the state's contribution rate is not reversed this session, the diversion of funds from the pension fund will continue, and major benefit gains for active school employees again will be precluded.
Rep. Junell may not agree with the high budgetary priority we would place on correcting TRS pension shortcomings. But the school employees who have lost out on benefit increases because of the cut in the state's contribution rate deserve better than a derisive dismissal of their pension concerns.
Texas Federation of Teachers
Power to the People
Thanks for the continuing coverage of the electric deregulation debate. Some more thoughts on the matter: Partial deregulation (privatizing profits while socializing losses) may be worse than the status quo. Recall the savings and loan debacle or the sad record of partial deregulation in some of the eastern European countries. If we are going to do it, and I think we will, let's do it with gusto. We should learn from the success of airline deregulation. Two. Austin's electric utility won't survive. Why in a town full of progressive people does everyone assume that being bought out by T.U. or merging with LCRA are the only options? Think co-op. I belong to (and own a share of) Bluebonnet Co-op. Austin could give its utility to its customers. Ignore the fearmongers. Three. If we had never regulated electric power in the first place then nuclear power plants would never have been built. Regulated rates of return (state) and limitations of liability (federal) were the mother and father of nuclear power. Deregulation will be the Dr. Kevorkian for the nukes. For 25 years Libertarians have advocated personal freedom. Freedom to choose your religion, medicine, lover, speech, and yes... your electric supplier.
Vincent J. May
I am one of the people who feel that "Filling in the Blanks" [Vol. 16, No. 24] represents a loss of an essential ingredient of a viable community and neighborhood. The land between Lamar, Guadalupe, & 45th St. (Triangle Park) is not a blank, but is currently utilized by the neighborhood as a park, and development of this land would mean the loss of the neighborhood's only common space. Come celebrate common space and meet your neighbor at Triangle Park on Fridays, 4-6pm.
See you there.
Bill Bunch's letter (February 25) stating that no one opposes providing public facilities for Southwest Austin residents is absolutely correct. And no one believes that school overcrowding should not be alleviated. Parents have every reason to be concerned about their children's education and school overcrowding is one factor in whether a child receives a quality education. Where those schools should be built is the issue. There is no reason to build them in environmentally sensitive areas. The problem is that, behind the scenes, AISD is courted and threatened by the likes of Gary Bradley and Jim Bob Moffet. The pressure mounts for AISD to build schools where these guys want them. Once AISD gives into the pressure and announces locations, the stage is set to pit parents against environmentalists because parents want schools built as soon as possible and, of course, environmentalists want to fight for better locations. As a result, Gary and Jim Bob win, as it is easy to say that parents should win over the environmentalists, who just want to hold things up. What should happen? Parents and environmentalists should work together. A good environment and a good education are both essential to our children's futures. And we should let AISD know that that is what we expect.
In his recent article Mr. Nichols ["Media Clips," Vol. 16, No. 26] has described me as "UE's point man." For the record, I am a former staff member and shop steward of KPFK-FM in Los Angeles. I am also the author of a report issued last spring which revealed that Pacifica's management had retained the American Consulting Group (ACG) whose advertised purpose is the "neutralization" of union organizing efforts.
The ACG did more than "advise on labor law" as Pacifica's CEO Pat Scott claims. It is documented that an ACG advisor sat in 17 negotiating sessions beside KPFK General Manager Mark Scubb, and drafted a new contract for unionized stations that attempts to remove whatever vestige of worker oversight existed, as well as exclude the majority of workers now covered from protection.
ACG was originally hired by Pacifica in response to a National Labor Relations Board charge filed by KPFK's union when Pacifica refused to open its books to prove an alleged " financial crisis," which was to result in the lay-off of one third of the staff at the Los Angeles station. Under the old contracts, Pacifica was obliged to provide financial information justifying "financial crisis."
Before Pat Scott became CEO, financial information was not concealed. The Scott regime has also permanently closed all Finance Committee meetings to anyone outside of a very small group. Why?
Since Pat Scott became the Executive Director of Pacifica, the formerly progressive Foundation has not only spent over $60,000 to fight its own workers, it has closed its National Board meetings to the public in violation of CPB funding guidelines, told the public minutes of those meetings are "confidential documents" and has actively worked to prevent anyone outside of small, self-selected and self-perpetuating group from attending policy meetings or viewing the books of the Foundation. What's going on behind those closed doors?
Pacifica management has lied on the record about its use of the ACG, and how much they were paid. Gag orders, threats and retaliatory firings have been used against any within the organization who are attempting to ask these questions publicly. We have repeatedly challenged Pacifica management to open their books and prove us wrong. They have not done so. Why?
Regarding alleged death threats against Mark Schubb, Pat Scott and others: Let's see the police report. KPFA's management (in Berkeley) also made such claims. Yet, no such report had been filed with the Berkeley police. Why not?
I recommend readers get a copy of Martin Levitt's book, Confessions of a Union Buster. In it, he outlines how phony death-threat claims are part of the union-busters' arsenal, designed to portray the union as violent and create sympathy for management.
We have documented all of our claims against the Pat Scott regime on the World Wide Web (http://www.radio4all.org/freepacifica/).
Pacifica's management has not provided any proof whatsoever. You should ask yourself why.
Former Staff member and
UE shop steward
KPFK-FM, Los Angeles
[Editor's note: In the "Media Clips" to which Gerry's letter refers, Gerry was mistakenly identified as male. The Chronicle regrets the error.]