Posts Tagged ‘Mayor’

Looks like Houston could become the next Wisconsin in a fight over city pensions…

Earlier this month, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived a bitter and protracted recall fight with public sector unions over pensions, benefits, and collective bargaining rights. Just two weeks later, Mayor Annise Parker says that she too has a plan to address the city’s alleged pension problems. The plan, unveiling late this summer, is expected to be part of a public relations offensive aimed at changing state law which governs the city’s three public pension systems.

How the mayor plans on changing state law with the aid of a Republican-dominated Texas legislature in the 2013 remains to be seen. This latest move by Mayor Parker, lines up with efforts by fellow Democrats Rahm Emanuel, Pat Quinn, and Angel Taveras in a bipartisan attack on unions and working-class organizations, which is likely to draw support from conservative Republicans in the Texas State Legislature.

Houston Firefighters are not eligible to draw Social Security benefits; instead, the money they would otherwise normally put into the Social Security system goes into the Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Fund.  All HFD retirees count on the money they pay into the pension system in concert with a contribution from city taxpayers. This pension fund provides firefighters a mainstay of a secure retirement after decades of dangerous public service.

The total pension obligation of Police, Firefighters and city workers amounts to less than 10%  paid out from the city’s general fund budget. which raises questions regarding the true motivation behind Mayor Parker’s pension offensive.

A few questions are terribly apparent:

  1. Last year she threatened to lay off nearly 300 jailers in the in order to force the Police to come to the bargaining table over pensions. Will Mayor Parker attempt to divide and conquer the Firefighters on this issue in this way?
  2. Will other public sector employees unite with the Firefighters to resist attacks on pensions and union rights?
  3. What kind of recourse do the firefighters see themselves resorting to should the Mayor’s proposal be as onerous as feared and implemented over the objections of firefighters and their supporters?

Mayor Parker’s plan has the support of the Laura and John Arnold foundation, which advocates for the abolition of defined-benefit pension plans and their replacement with much riskier defined-contribution plans such as 401(k)s which place workers’ retirement money in the stock market  and at the mercy of Wall Street.

Mayor Parker’s expected proposal paints a bleak picture of Labor’s relationship with a political party that claims to protect the interest of working-class Americans neglectful at best, and abusive at worst. A battle over pensions will be a test of Mayor Parker’s political mettle and the ability of unions to withstand the bipartisan onslaught against the economic interests working-class Americans. Last November saw the two-term mayor nearly forced into a runoff against a political unknown who she outspent. Mayor Parker escaped a runoff by just one percent of the vote.