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.
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.