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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Guardian, SEIU's Ridiculous Take on Pension Reform

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 12:33 PM

click to enlarge I know! Let's tax the rich!
  • I know! Let's tax the rich!

If you hopelessly lash yourself to one of the city's political camps you're likely either a hack or on the payroll. Or, in the case of this week's Guardian editorial likening city pension reform to Wisconsin-style union-busting, both.

The piece is penned by the president and vice president of the local SEIU, who can't be blamed for having an opinion about matters that affect the fiscal well-being of their dues-paying members. That is, after all, what unions do. Less sanguine is the astonishingly misguided and dishonest assessment of this city's pension problem.

Deconstructing the arguments presented in this piece is almost akin to trying to explain why time-travel sequences in movies don't obey the laws of physics. Back to the Future was meant to entertain and this editorial was meant to either influence or entrench readers in their positions. Reality is not a factor.

So, let's start with the notion that the city's gaping deficit is merely "the excuse" to assail workers' pension payments.

In the fantasy world, the problem isn't that San Francisco is paying $423 million this year toward workers' pensions. The problem is, we haven't taxed the rich and the corporations enough that bleeding a projected half-a-billion dollars or even $750 million into pensions in the very near future isn't a problem.

There's a legitimate argument to be made that, historically, we're paying a pittance for taxes and could stand to contribute more. But that's not a viable manner of addressing our massive pension problem (neither is blaming Bernie Madoff).

click to enlarge money_vacuum.jpg
If we were swimming in money, yes, we could afford to pay out the odd half billion (or more) on exploding pensions. But we're not, obviously -- and, even if we were, the notion that we shouldn't address out-of-control pension spending because we ought to be taxing the hell out of the rich and throwing that money into our pension hole is clumsy thinking. In essence, the contention being pushed here is that we should fix a leak in the bucket by pouring water in faster.

The Guardian editorial's other spurious claim is that Jeff Adachi's pension crusade is 100-percent akin to Gov. Scott Walker's crackdown on labor in Wisconsin. If you're going to make ridiculous comparisons of Adachi to undesirable public figures you might as well go whole hog and liken him to Hitler. But then you'd never be treated to logic like this:

But while

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature eliminated

collective bargaining for their public employees to slash their wages,

health care, and pensions, Adachi is slashing San Francisco's workers

pay and pensions through the ballot, effectively taking those items off

the bargaining table. What's the difference?

Other than the latter coming about via the will of the people and leaving workers free to use collective bargaining to negotiate higher salaries to make up for increased pension and health care payments? Not much!

Finally, the argument is trotted out, once again, that pension reform is hopelessly corrupted because wealthy Republicans have donated money to Adachi's measures. This neatly avoids delving into policy matters whatsoever. It also conveniently ignores organized labor's scorched-earth campaign to upend Prop. B last election cycle -- a campaign joined by every last local elected city, state, and federal official.

With every vestige of organized politics heavily reliant on labor support in this city, it's no surprise Adachi turned to rich Republicans for funding. One of the favorite games of the Guardian is to craft tangled spider charts a la Lyndon LaRouche revealing vast, interlocked conspiracies. But you don't need to don a tinfoil hat and evoke the New World Order to understand why union higher-ups are against altering the status quo. And while Adachi's backers may be well out of step with "San Francisco Values," ignoring the substance of the pension and health care reform measures is as productive as suggesting the right-wing billionaires donate the million dollars and change they spilled into pension reform into alleviating our $380 million budget deficit.

There is one kernel of truth in the Guardian piece, however. When the authors note "No one is more concerned with the viability of the pension fund than those who plan to retire on it," this is certainly the case. Of course, the pension fund will remain "viable" for "those who plan to retire on it" regardless of how much money is being sucked out of the general fund. The city is legally mandated to fund the pension system, no matter how many programs need to be cut or future workers laid off or left unhired.

In other words: "San Francisco's benefits system is protected by the city charter, and is sustainable. The city, as we know it, isn't."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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