Kentucky teachers close schools to protest pension ambush

Twenty school districts in Kentucky were shut down on Friday, March 30 as teachers poured into Frankfort, the state capital, to protest the passage of what teachers are calling an “ambush pension bill.”

Kentucky Education Association (KEA) president Stephanie Winkler said that KEA has planned a rally on Monday, April 2 to continue to protest the state’s leadership’s “blatant disrespect for the law and democracy.”

Winkler’s remarks came after Republican leaders of Kentucky’s Legislature inserted language that radically alters pensions for teachers and other public employees into a routine bill about sewer repairs, and then rushed the bill, SB 151, through both houses for a vote.

No committee hearings were held on the newly written bill and there was no analysis of the bill’s impact on the state or to legislators’ constituents. There wasn’t even a chance for lawmakers to read the 291-page bill before they voted.

Nevertheless, the House of Representatives at 7:30 P.M. narrowly approved the bill 49-46, and three hours later the Senate did the same and sent it Gov. Matt Bevin to sign.

The new bill eliminates pensions for newly hired teachers and other government employees and replaces them with a cash balance plan, which shifts much of the investment risks onto individual employees and reduces their pension benefit.

In addition to protesting the stealth attack on pensions, Winkler said that the Monday demonstrations will be about holding the governor and lawmakers accountable for education funding.

“We want lawmakers to vote for a budget that funds public education,” said Winkler at Friday afternoon media conference.

Winkler said that lawmakers need to increase state funding for classroom education, restore cuts to public school transportation budgets, and ease local school districts’ financial burdens.

Most school districts will be on spring break beginning April 2, but Winkler urged districts that are still open to close school on April 2 so that educators can come to Frankfort and make their voices heard.

As of Friday afternoon, at least three had announced that they will do so.

After passage of the SB 151, Gov. Matt Bevin, who enthusiastically supports SB 151, said that the bill solves the state’s pension funding problem, but it doesn’t.

For one thing, the bill provides no new funding to pay down the $26.75 billion unfunded liability of the state employees’ pension fund.

Gov. Bevin wants to divert more than a $1 billion from the teachers’ pension fund, which is in much better shape, into the state employees’ pension fund.

Winkler said that HB 151 is bad for public education because it creates an inferior retirement benefit that makes it more difficult than it already is to attract new teachers to teach in the Kentucky’s schools.

Making it more difficult to attract quality educators, Winkler said,  breaks a promise that the state has made to provide an equal and quality education to all public school students.

SB 151 leaves the pension of current teachers and other public employees intact, but the teachers who came to Frankfort on March 30 and plan to return on April 2 have every reason to believe that SB 151 breaks a promise made to them as well as to future teachers.

SB 151 leaves public pensions still seriously under funded, and there’s every reason to believe that in the not too distant future, Gov. Bevin won’t hesitate to use the pensions’ precariousness as an excuse to eliminate pensions for all teachers.

The stealth attack on public pensions comes after, Gov. Bevin’s original proposal to end public pensions in Kentucky, SB 1, appeared to be dead in the water.

Public demonstrations by teachers and other public employees had made lawmakers wary about supporting the bill.

Gov. Bevin’s antipathy toward secure retirements shouldn’t come as a surprise. He is an enthusiastic acolyte of the Koch brothers, whose political action committees lavishly support political candidates seeking to weaken public institutions including public education and public service.

Teachers from all over Kentucky recognize this threat, and that’s why they rushed to Frankfort on March 30 and will return on April 2.

And it appears that their loud voice has been heard by Andy Beshear, the state’s Democratic attorney general.

Beshear told an audience of teachers who packed the capitol’s halls on Friday that SB 151 violates the non-voidable contract the state has made to teachers and other public employees, reports the Lexington Herald Leader.

“While the (legislature’s) leadership broke their promise to you,” Beshear said. “I am going to keep my promise to you. I’m going to sue over this bill.”

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Kentucky teachers: stop education funding cuts and honor pension promise

Teachers from all over Kentucky were back in Frankfort, the state capital, on March 23 to demand that Gov. Matt Bevin and his allies in the state Legislature keep their promise to the state’s school children and their teachers.

The Legislature currently is considering bills that threaten the quality of education in the classroom and threaten the stability of the teachers’ pension fund.

Last week, the state Senate passed a budget bill that cuts the funding for classroom education approved by the state House of Representatives by $153 million. It also shaves spending for pre-school programs by 6.25 percent, cuts school transportation funding by $215 million, and provides no funding for student textbooks.

In addition, the Senate version of the budget cuts funding for teacher pensions by $1.1 billion over two years.

“We find it curious that even after taking $1 billion from pension funding, the Senate couldn’t find a way to do more for (classroom education), preschool, or textbooks,” reads a statement issued by the Kentucky Education Association.

The cuts to the teachers’ pension fund is especially alarming because actuaries, who audit the pension fund and determine its soundness, say that the cuts undermine the fund’s stability and will make the teachers’ pension fund insolvent by 2038.

The proposal has sparked outrage all over the state. Dozens of local demonstrations have taken places, and on Thursday, March 22, 2500 teachers and their supporters marched through Frankfort to demand an end to education funding cuts and adequate funding for their pensions.

Demonstrators said that the government has promised Kentucky students a quality education and teachers a secure retirement in lieu of a competitive paycheck.

“This fight is about keeping a promise to the students and teachers of (Kentucky),” said Stephanie Winkler, president of KEA, to KEA members over the weekend.

Gov. Bevin, who called protesting teachers “thugs” for speaking out against his cuts to education and pension funding, wants to take $1.1 billion from the teachers retirement fund and use it to prop up with the ailing state employees’ pension fund, which for years, has been purposely under funded.

Winkler criticized Gov. Bevin for “asking hard-working educators to bail the state out of this problem again rather asking corporations to pay their fair share.”

“We need to find new revenue,” Winkler said. “That’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

“We give away $13 billion in tax credits (to corporations) but only take in $11 billion in tax receipts,” she continued.

So far, the House and Senate have passed two different budget bills and a conference committee composed of leaders from the House and Senate has been convened to reconcile the two budgets.

In the meantime, Kentucky educators continue to make their voices heard.

On Monday morning before dawn, teachers in Louisville gathered in front of their schools to stage walk-ins to protest the Senate version of the budget bill and HB 1 another bill being considered by the Legislature.

HB 1 would radically alter pensions for public employees.

For newly hired public employees, it would eliminate their defined benefit pension plans that guarantee a modest but reliable pension for life after retirement and replace it with a cash balance plan.

Cash balance pension plans are often described as hybrids that contain features of individual retirement savings plans such as 401(k) savings plans and defined benefit plans.

In reality, they transfer much more risks to individuals covered by the plans and don’t guarantee the same level of benefits as defined benefit plans.

Gov. Bevin’s support for HB 1 and steep cuts to education and the teachers’ pension fund do not come as much of a surprise.

He is an acolyte of the Koch brothers, whose hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions favor politicians who wish to eviscerate public services such as public education and demean employees who provide these services.

But in his attempt to reduce funding for education and strip teacher pension funds of much-needed resources, he has run into a formidable opponent in Kentucky’s teachers.

Their campaign to save public education from unaffordable budget cuts and to protect their promised pensions has generate widespread community support.

When teachers came to Frankfort on March 22 to oppose cuts to education and their pensions, at least nine school districts called off classes, so that teachers could participate in the demonstrations in Frankfort.

Thousands of people, not just teachers have participated in the fight to stop education funding cuts and to protect teachers’ pensions, said Winkler.

“Our leaders made educators a promise,” she continued. “The people of Kentucky want that promise to be kept, and they’re not silent about it. . . We are the majority, and we will not be silent anymore.”

Teamsters turn back threat to their pensions; prepare for more

Before the holidays, scores of retired Teamsters gathered in Washington DC to urge lawmakers to oppose a bill that threatened their retirement security.

They returned home victorious after convincing lawmakers to omit from inclusion in a must-past budget bill the Multiemployer Reform Act of 2016.

This bill, also called the Composite bill, would have allowed pension plans whose members work or worked for multiple employers to create Composite pension plans that shift investment risks onto the backs of individual workers and retirees.

“We stopped another ambush of our retirement security,” said Greg Smith, a Teamster retiree from Akron, Ohio to Teamsters for a Democratic Union, an organization of rank-and-file Teamster members building union power on the job. “(We) did a lot of hard work to make sure the Composite (bill) wouldn’t see the light of day.”

Smith, a member of National United Committees to Protect Pensions, an organization of local committees of Teamster retirees, also said that retirees who didn’t go to Washington DC made phone calls and sent e-mails.

“It’s the grassroots effort we’ve organized that’s making a big difference.” continued Smith.

Multiemployer pension plans are common in industries such as transportation, construction, and hospitality.

Until recently, these pension plans provided a modest yet secure retirement for millions of hard working people.

But some of these plans have hit on hard times. Pension plans for Teamsters have been especially hard hit. First they suffered large financial losses when Wall Street speculation caused the Great Recession and a subsequent market downturn.

As the markets recovered, the pension plans were hit by the long-term effects of political policies enacted nearly 40 years ago. One of those policies was the deregulation of the trucking industry that allowed hundreds of new non-union trucking companies to begin operating.

These non-union trucking companies didn’t contribute to the multiemployer pension funds that protected Teamsters’ retirement, and their race to the bottom wages and benefits put pressure on union trucking companies to lower labor costs, which in many cases led to insufficient pension contributions from employers.

Forty years ago, the US government also began chipping away at laws that protected workers’ rights to join a union. As a result, union organizing became more difficult, and fewer workers were able to join unions, which weakened their ability to protect pension plans like those that protect retired Teamsters.

The result is that some multiemployer pensions like those of the Teamsters are under funded.

Congress has been trying to deal with the under funding problem, but the solutions that it has considered start from two questionable assumptions: first, the interests of business always take priority over the interests of workers and second, retirees and workers must shoulder more of the risks and burdens of saving their pensions.

Two years ago, Congress enacted its first law dealing with the under funding problem. It also was named the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act. It allowed under funded multiemployer pension plans to reduce benefits.

Last year, the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund used this law to propose  pension cuts, but a grassroots effort by retired Teamsters stopped the proposed cuts.

The Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2016 was Congress next effort to deal with the under funding problem. The Composite pensions that it would have authorized are a hybrid cross between traditional pensions and 401(k)-type retirement savings accounts.

Composites are a boon to employers because they make it possible for employers to lower their pension contributions, but they put workers’ retirement security at risk.

Composite plans allow workers to retire with a lifetime annuity, but the amount of that annuity depends on the health of financial markets. If markets take a big hit like they did in 2008 and 2009, the amount of annuity is subject to reduction.

There is another way to deal with the under funding problem. The Keep Our Pension Promises Act (KOPP), sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, would allow the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to help troubled multiemployer pension plans by paying a small portion of the plans’ benefits in order to prevent benefit cuts.

Financial assistance under KOPP would be paid for by closing two tax loopholes that benefit the very wealthy.

Unlike other proposals, KOPP puts the interest of workers and retirees first, but given the leadership of the new Congress, it is more likely that when Congress turns its attention to dealing with the under funding problem, it will pursue proposals like the Composite bill.

Members of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions are gearing up to fight any new Composite bill that may surface in Congress and to fight other threats to their pension.

“We’re going to continue what we’re doing. We’re going to step up the effort a little bit,” said Mike Walden, chairman of National United Committee to Protect Pension to Channel 26 News in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “We have to get a little more professional, which is why the national committee was formed. And, we have some power on both ends now. But, the majority of our power is still power in numbers.”

Bankruptcy judge rules against retired miners

A federal bankruptcy judge on December 28 ruled that Walter Energy can stop making pension and retiree health care contributions, leaving 2,800 retired coal miners and their dependents in peril.

Walter Energy, which operates coal mines near Birmingham, Alabama, filed for bankruptcy in July.

A group of Walter’s creditors led by some of the nation’s largest private equity firms such as Apollo Group Management, Blackstone, and KKR is negotiating to buy Walter.

The potential purchasers demanded that Walter cut wages and substantially reduce its pension and retiree health care contributions.

Federal bankruptcy judge Tamara Mitchell’s ruling allows Walter to terminate its collective bargaining agreement with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which in turn allows Walter to discontinue its pension and retiree health care contributions.

“The decision announced today by Judge Mitchell . . . rejecting our collective bargaining agreement with Walter Energy and wiping out Walter’s obligation to pay retiree health care and pension benefits is extremely disappointing but not surprising,” said Cecil Roberts, UMWA international president. “The law is stacked against workers in American bankruptcy courts. A lifetime of hard work and dedication means nothing to the courts.”

Walter Energy retirees, who made the coal company a thriving enterprise in its heyday, will now have to worry about the status of their pensions.

Because they receive their pension from a defined benefit pension fund established for all UMWA members, they will continue to receive their monthly pension for the time being.

But their pension fund will be weakened because Walter will no longer be making pension contributions.

To make matters worse, their pension fund is already in critical status because the number of union coal mines has been on the decline for two decades, which means that pension contributions have been declining as well.

While the judge ruled that Walter can stop making pension and retiree health care contributions, she also ruled that Walter can pay $2 million in retention bonuses to 26 executives and managers at Walter’s two Alabama coal mines.

“The life or death decisions vulnerable senior citizens will now be forced to make mean nothing to the courts,” said Roberts. “Apparently all that matters is that executives get bonuses and Wall Street raiders get paid. If this is justice in America, then something is very, very wrong.”

Walter, which produces metallurgical coal for steel and coke production, has been hit hard by the economic downturn in the steel industry.

It has failed to turn a profit since 2011.

Despite its poor performance Walter executives continued to receive performance bonuses during this period.

AL.com reports that in 2014, three Walter executives received bonuses that amounted to 80 percent of their total compensation for 2013.

The president of Jim Walter Resources, Walter’s largest division, received a $400,000 bonus in 2014.

From 2011 to 2014, Walter CEO Walt Scheller saw his annual compensation increase by 140 percent to $6.3 million.

Roberts said that the judge’s ruling was “especially galling” in light of the fact that the interests of management and creditors have been protected while miners and retirees have “been stripped of everything.”

Despite the setback, Roberts said that the union is continuing to negotiate for a collective bargaining agreement that protects active and retired miners.

“I want to be very clear: This decision does nothing to slow our effort to maintain a union contract at Walter Energy operations nor does it end our fight to maintain retiree health care benefits,” said Roberts. ”

UMWA is continuing to negotiate with Walter management and its lenders who have offered to buy the company.

“I sincerely hope we can reach an agreement. We will advise our members regarding the progress of those talks as soon as we can,” said Roberts.

Judge allows Detroit bankruptcy and possible pension cuts to proceed

A federal judge on December 3 ruled that Detroit’s bankruptcy could proceed and that the city could reduce pensions of retired employees in order to pay off its debts.

AFSCME, Detroit’s largest city employees unions, immediately appealed the judge’s ruling.

“It’s a sad day for the people of Detroit,” said Sharon Levine, an attorney for AFSCME, to CNBC. “We’ve already filed an appeal. We’re going to keep fighting for the pensions. We’re going to keep fighting for our members.”

Before Judge Steven Rhodes made his ruling, AFSCME members and community supporters rallied outside the courthouse, some holding signs that read, “Make the banks pay” and “Stop debt service to banks that destroyed Detroit.”

Some opponents of the city’s bankruptcy have argued that banks made predatory loans that contributed to the city’s financial difficulties. As an example, they cite a $1.5 billion pension certificate loan that UBS made to Detroit in 2005, a loan that eventually siphoned away millions of dollars in city revenue that could have been used for city services.

Inside the courthouse, AFSCME attorneys argued that the bankruptcy should not be allowed to proceed because the bankruptcy, which was filed in a federal court, interferes with the state’s sovereignty, and more specifically, that it puts pensions that are protected by the state’s constitution at risk.

The US Justice Department testified in court and submitted briefs arguing that the bankruptcy should be allowed to proceed even if it meant that retirees’ pensions would be reduced.

In his ruling, the judge agreed with the Justice Department, but cautioned the city that the pension cuts that the city proposes in its bankruptcy exit plan should not be too severe.

However, that admonition was not comforting to many Detroit retirees.

“It’s mind-boggling. It’s disgusting. It’s horrible,” said Mashuk Meah of Detroit, who worked for 34 years for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, to the Detroit Free Press. “There will be many people hurt by this. All I can do is pray that Kevyn Orr (the emergency manager overseeing the bankruptcy) is fair.”

Meah told the Free Press that the judge’s ruling could mean that he and his wife may lose their home.

The mainstream press has partially blamed Detroit’s overly generous pensions for the city’s financial difficulties, but the truth is that the average pension for Detroit’s non-emergency workers are only a modest $19,000 a year. Many if not most of these workers don’t receive Social Security payments.

The judge’s ruling could have a broad impact well beyond Detroit.

Detroit’s pensions were supposedly protected by the state’s constitution, which on the surface made them appear to be inviolable, but if Judge Rhodes’ decision is allowed to stand other protections meant to secure pension obligations could be rendered meaningless.

“This is one of the strongest protected pension obligations in the country here in Michigan,” said Bruce Babiarz of the Detroit Police and Fire Retirement System to the New York Times. “If this ruling is upheld, this is the canary in a coal mine for protected pension benefits across the country. They’re gone.”

The judge’s ruling allows Orr to proceed with formulating a plan for paying off the city’s creditors and exiting bankruptcy.

In addition to cutting pensions to pay off creditors, Orr’s plan will likely include a proposal to sell city assets to private investors.

Orr last summer said that he was considering a plan that would allow the city to sell its Water and Sewage Department.

The Detroit News reports that several private equity firms have expressed interest in buying the publicly owned water works, but only if they are allowed to increase rates that are currently protected by state law.

Whatever happens as a result of the Judge Rhodes’ bankruptcy ruling, AFSCME and community members opposed to the bankruptcy will continue the fight to protect the public’s interest.

“We are. . .  going to continue the struggle against the Detroit bankruptcy,” said Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network to the Free Press. “The citizens are very concerned about the fact that our mayor didn’t lead us into bankruptcy, our city council never voted for bankruptcy, but the emergency manager and (Michigan) Gov. (Rick) Snyder brought us to this place.”

Pensions on the line as Detroit files for bankruptcy

A Michigan judge ruled last week that the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing violated the state’s Constitution, which protects public pensions from cuts, but a federal bankruptcy judge subsequently ruled that the federal court has jurisdiction and that a hearing on the case would be held on Wednesday, Jul 24.

Union leaders on Monday said that they would continue to pursue legal action to block the city from declaring bankruptcy.

Kevyn Orr, the city’s emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on behalf of the City of Detroit. As part of their plan for getting the city out of bankruptcy, Orr and Gov. Snyder are proposing cuts to retired workers pensions and the elimination of their health care benefit.

The average pension for a retired city frontline worker is less than $18,000 a year, and some are not eligible for Social Security because the city is exempt from making contributions to the Social Security fund.

“We urge Snyder and Orr to immediately abandon their course of action and to follow the (state) judge’s order directing the emergency manager to immediately withdraw the Chapter 9 petition and to not authorize any further Chapter 9 filing that threatens to diminish or impair accrued pension benefits,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders in a press statement. “There is too much at stake to play political games with the hard earned retirement security of Detroit’s public workers. These retirees worked hard and played by the rules. . .  Attacking these pensions is not only unfair, it is illegal.”

On Monday shortly after the federal bankruptcy judge’s ruling, AFSCME Council 25, which represent public workers in Michigan, held a press conference where Council 25 President Al Garrett announced that the union had filed an objection to the bankruptcy proceedings in federal court.

The union is questioning Detroit’s eligibility for filing bankruptcy.

According to Ed McNeil, a special assistant Garrett, the city is required to negotiate in good faith over issues such as pensions and health care with its unions before declaring bankruptcy but has failed to do so.

Prior to Orr filing for bankruptcy, members of Orr’s staff met with union representatives to provide them information, but when asked by McNeil whether these meetings were negotiations, Orr’s staff responded that they were only information meetings and not negotiations.

At union’s press conference, union leaders said that the decision to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy had already been made before Orr was officially appointed as the city’s emergency manager.

“I think it’s really important for the media to report the hypocrisy and the dishonesty that Kevyn Orr says yesterday they reached out and they bent over backwards, and they’ve never had one negotiating session with any of the unions,” said UAW President Bob King, who was supporting Council 25 at the press conference. “That’s outrageous. People in Michigan should be outraged they’re being lied to every day.”

McNeil told reporters that before Orr was appointed emergency manager, the city’s 33 unions proposed contract changes that would have saved the city $180.2 million, but that the city was pressured by Gov. Snyder into rejecting the changes.

Garrett referred to e-mails showing that Gov. Snyder and Orr were discussing the possibility of filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy even before Orr was officially appointed.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, “Weeks before a state financial review team found Detroit’s fiscal condition so dire that Gov. Rick Snyder would soon appoint an emergency manager, discussions behind the scenes indicated that an orderly Chapter 9 bankruptcy for the Motor City might be the best option.”

The report goes on to say that the emails show that Orr had some reservations about filing bankruptcy, but one of Orr’s colleagues at the Jones Day law firm advised him in a January 31 e-mail that,

“It seems that the ideal scenario would be that Snyder and (Mayor Dave) Bing both agree that the best option is simply to go through an orderly Chapter 9,” Jones Day lawyer Dan Moss, who worked with Orr on Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy, told Orr in a Jan. 31 e-mail. “This avoids an unnecessary political fight over the scope/authority of any appointed emergency manager and, moreover, moves the ball forward on setting Detroit on the right track.”

At the Monday press conference, Garrett objected to the behind the scenes decision to file bankruptcy.

“Bankruptcy’s not the solution,” said Garrett. “It has been the plan of this administration because there’s been a decision made that the people running Detroit, the people who live in Detroit ought not have a say in the destiny of what the city of Detroit is.”

Private equity firm seeks to eliminate Iowa workers’ pensions

Pinnacle Foods, owned by the Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm, wants to eliminate workers’ pensions at its food processing plant in Fort Mason, Iowa. The workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 617, recently voted to authorize a strike to protect their pensions.

Pinnacle and Local 617 began negotiating a new contract in September. The old one expired in October, and the two sides agreed to continue negotiating while the old contract remained in effect. That agreement expired January 13. So far, there have been no reports of a strike or lockout.

“From the get go, the company said it wanted to eliminate pensions,” said Darin Boatman, president of Local 617 to the Daily Gate City. “Basically, they don’t want to fund it anymore.”

Boatman also said that the company has not offered anything in exchange for eliminating pensions: “No increase in pay, no 401(k) contribution. They just basically want to take it away,” he said to KHQA Channel 7 news.

Pinnacle is a New Jersey-based corporation that owns a number of national food brands including Birds Eye, Duncan Hines, and Log Cabin. Among other products, the more than 400 workers at the Fort Mason plant make Armour beef stew, beef hash, and chili. They also make Vienna sausages and Nalley’s chili.

Pinnacle Foods, which had net sales totaling $1.7 billion in the first three-quarters of 2012, was acquired by Blackstone in 2007 for $2.1 billion. Two years later Blackstone purchased the Birds Eye brand for $1.3 billion and folded it into Pinnacle’s product line.

Since acquiring Pinnacle, Blackstone has moved to reduce labor costs by closing and consolidating Pinnacle plants. In 2011 it closed a Birds Eye plant in Fulton, New York eliminating 270 jobs, many of which paid more than $17 an hour. It also closed a plant in Tacoma, Washington eliminating what the Seattle Times describes as 160 “stable, middle-class jobs.”

One of the products made at the Tacoma plant was Nalley’s chili, a Pacific Northwest regional brand. Pinnacle moved its production to Fort Mason.

Before it did so, Pinnacle and Blackstone received generous tax incentives and tax credits to finance an expansion of the Fort Mason plant, so that the plant could begin making Nalley’s chili and other products. In order to receive this public subsidy, Pinnacle and Blackstone agreed to hire 65 new employees at the expanded plant.

One of the tax credits Blackstone and Pinnacle received is called the Targeted Job Withholding Tax Credit, which allowed Pinnacle to divert to the City of Fort Mason a portion of the state income taxes that the company withheld from its workers’ paychecks. The city then matched every dollar diverted to it, and the combination of the diverted withholdings and the city’s match was used to pay for Pinnacle’s plant expansion. Pinnacle also received a rebate on sale taxes it paid to contractors and subcontractors for the expansion project.

Despite this generous public support, Blackstone and Pinnacle want to eliminate the pensions of the workers whose taxes were diverted to finance the plant’s expansion.

Blackstone isn’t just interested in eliminating retirement security for its Fort Mason workers. Blackstone’s founder, Peter Peterson, has been instrumental in the campaign to reduce US safety net programs.

According to Source Watch, Peterson is “a Wall Street billionaire who uses his wealth to underwrite PR campaigns against Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, citing concerns over the federal deficit.”

Peterson’s latest project is called Fix the Debt, a group of corporate executives, who are lobbying Congress to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as part of their debt reduction program. Peterson and other Fix the Debt corporate executives want workers to lower their expectations about having a secure retirement.

However, workers at the Pinnacle plant in Fort Mason don’t seem to be ready to lower their expectations. A safe and secure retirement remains a priority for them.

“The company is wanting to take away our pension benefits,” said Boatman to KHQA. “That’s a very serious issue for us, because that’s what we look forward to live off of once we get older and retire.”

“I hope this (unanimous)  strike vote sends a strong message to the company and moves the negotiation process to a successful conclusion,” he added.