Kentucky teachers are scratching their heads. What took the union so long to file suit over pension theft?

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Thousands of Kentucky teachers are angered over the passage of pension theft by the Kentucky legislature. It was passed in the dead of night, attached to a sewer bill.

Rank and file teachers have responded with huge rallies and walkouts. More actions are planned.

Kentucky already has one of the worst funded teacher pensions in the nation. The bill would move new hires into a new hybrid plan and out of their contractually guaranteed defined benefit plan.

Insider Louisville:

Attorney General Andy Beshear filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court on Wednesday calling for the pension bill that was signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin a day earlier to be declared unconstitutional, in addition to seeking a temporary injunction to block the implementation of the law while this litigation proceeds.

Beshear was joined in his lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 151 by the Kentucky Education Association and the Kentucky State Lodge Fraternal Order of the Police — the largest unions for teachers and law enforcement in the state — with the defendants being Bevin and the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate.

I don’t have a detailed count, but I know more than a few Kentucky teachers who wonder what took the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) – an affiliate of the National Education Association – so long to go to court over the theft of the underfunded state public employee pension plan.

Kentucky high school history teacher Dr. Randy Wieck certainly wonders why.

Today he wrote me.

“TRELF filed in 2014. WHY did our union KEA wait so long??? Paid to keep quiet??”

Dr. Wieck believes that taking pension theft to court is a way to go. He has found the KEA unwilling to use the courts.

Or the streets for that matter.

Or anything else until yesterday.

He was basically told by the KEA, the union he belongs to, “you do it.”

Dr. Wieck was forced to go outside the union and form TRELF, the Teacher Retirement Legal Fund.

Those of us in Illinois can resonate. Both the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers were much more willing to concede on teacher retirement benefits than fight in the courts. It was only after pension theft was passed by the Illinois legislature and the relatively small Illinois Retired Teachers Association refused to budge on our fundamental constitutional rights, promising a court fight, did the rest of the state’s public employee unions join in.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in our favor.


Dr. Randy Wieck, a Kentucky high school history classroom teacher with a degree from the London School of Economics has already been lauded in this column, as well as Bloomberg and the San Francisco Chronicle, for single-handedly taking on the titans of private equity.

Now Wieck has filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court of the Western District of Kentucky claiming that mismanagement of the investments of the Kentucky Teachers Retirement Systems (KTRS) has resulted in the worst-funded state teacher plan in the U.S—forcing teachers to  contribute more of their salaries (up from 9% to 13%).

Wieck has no lawyer—he’s representing himself—in a Herculean effort to save his own and other Kentucky teachers’ retirement.

You might expect that powerful, well-funded national and local public unions would rally behind Wieck to hold Wall Street accountable for undermining teachers’ retirement security. To date, in Kentucky and nationally, public sector labor organizations have been mighty reluctant—even when pressed—to recognize that how the money in a pension is managed is at least as important as how much goes into it and is paid out in benefits.

Labor should be embracing a new role—providing meaningful independent oversight of pension investments.  Every public pension needs an outside Inspector General, in my opinion. Organized labor could and should make it happen.

When Forbes understands pension theft better than the IEA, IFT, NEA, AFT and the Kentucky teachers union, it makes you wonder where their heads are at.

9 thoughts on “Kentucky teachers are scratching their heads. What took the union so long to file suit over pension theft?

  1. Thanks for the focus on us, Fred. Big rally in Frankfort tomorrow. Will see if the districts have the guts to close, as there is likely to be a statewide shortage of substitutes. I will take a personal day.

    Thanks again,



  2. What took the union so long? They were probably too busy counting all the dues and deciding what foods they should have at their state conference hospitality rooms. Now that there seems to be a groundswell forming nationwide, unions better be aware that their members aren’t just going to fork over their money to get nothing in return. I’d love for all these state educational associations to have a forensic audit to see exactly where, what, and to whom people’s hard earned dues went to.

  3. A union is only as good as the people put in place to administer its mandate and the energy, engagement and perseverance of its members. It looks as though the latter are pulling the cart and the “horse” needs to catch-up. I might add, though, that it is often the case that union leaders work tirelessly and thanklessly while membership is disengaged and passive.

  4. Yet it didn’t take long for the NEA to endorse in the 2016 Dem Primary, even after being asked to wait, at least, until after the first debate. &, of course, the rank-&-file was not surveyed or asked in any way.
    Also–& it’s funny–I have been receiving communications from both Lily & Randi* today & yesterday. Too late & too little.

    *Randi wins the prize for sending more, & earlier, though. Also, she’s shown up.
    Where has Lily been?! (&, please, no one answer that these states aren’t NEA affiliated–“now is the time for all good (wo)men to come to the aid of the party.”
    As some of us wanted years ago, NEA & AFT should have merged.
    But then, again, some people would have lost their power positions (kinda like Cook County Recorder of Deeds–& now only Dem running for David Orr’s Cook County Clerk job {after having underhandedly getting good people thrown off the ballot}–Karen Yarbrough’s refusal to merge the 2 offices, which would have saved us taxpayers a lot of money).

  5. I hope the Kentucky teachers and other Kentucky public employees win in court. It will be a tough battle, and they have to rely on the “contract clause”. In Illinois, we have a specific public pension protection clause in the state constitution, which the Illinois supreme court followed when they threw out the attempted theft of public pensions in Illinois. We don’t know what would have happened without the pension protection clause.

    1. The Illinois pension protection clause is an additional wall against pension theft. But pensions are a contractual obligation that cannot be altered without mutual agreement and consideration.

  6. Fred,most public unions in Chicago are controlled by Rahm . The union officials have consulting contracts or other business w/the city. That’s how it is withLIUNA local 1001 & its umbrella group Laborers District Council . I ran for retiree trustee of the LABF pension fund . 3/4 of the trustees are appointed by Rahm & the union.The retiree trustee elected is a shill for the union (he’s collecting 3 pensions)The union & fund do not want any transparency or fairness in investment decisions.This is 1example of what members are up against

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