PERA, the Unions, and You

One of the less-noticed points of contention at Douglas County’s open negotiations the other week was the status of school district employees who are actually on the union payroll.  Basically, union heads leave the classroom to spend their time representing teachers and the union, yet remain officially school district employees.  The district wants to end this practice, and in fact, pick-slipped the union heads a couple of weeks ago.  The union wants to retain them as district employees, and claims that this is a non-issue, as the union reimburses the district for the employees’ salaries and PERA contributions.

The problem isn’t the current costs – although there may be some conflicts of interest in having a union boss refuse supervision and evaluation by the district, while still remaining nominally an employee.  The problem is PERA, and its something that the retirement plan ought to look at.

What happens here is that the unions, the national, state, and local, pay this employee’s salary.  That salary is no longer determined by the seniority or performance measures that apply to all other teachers, but by the people actually paying the salary.  So that employee is no longer being paid on their value to the district, or to the students, but to the union.  Their PERA benefits, which, over their lifetime, are calculated based on that salary.  Which means that PERA is paying benefits to potentially hundreds of employees statewide based not on their service to the taxpayers, but on their service to the union.  And since those benefits will, as currently constituted, far exceed the amount paid into the system, they constitute a net payout to the union, which doesn’t have to cover their own employees’ retirement benefits for those year.

The union will say that it’s unfair that a teacher should have to give up earned retirement benefits when they become a union rep.  But of course, they don’t have to give up anything they’re vested in.  This is, in the end, no different from a bureaucrat or a regulator leaving to take a job as a lobbyist.  They’re no longer directly serving the state government, and should no longer be a part of the state government retirement system, except for the benefits they have earned.  The union will argue that this will make becoming a union rep a much less desirable position, but never explain why that desirability should come at the direct expense of the taxpayer rather than the union and the teachers it represents.


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