Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Unbridled Audacity at the WEA

The offices of the Washington Education Association must be where shame goes to die. The AP reported yesterday that the WEA has gone to court to prevent the state of Washington from repealing its “gain-sharing” plan. The plan allows the state’s unionized public employees to receive extra pension money when their pension funds performs extraordinarily well — instead of having that money go back into the funds to make it more stable.

Unsurprisingly, “gain-sharing” was passed in the heady days of the late 90’s, when lawmakers and unions apparently couldn’t foresee that the economy might one day stop booming. In fact, the state employees union attempted to block any legislative attempt to increase pension solvency — Washington Federation of State Employees lobbyist Bev Hermanson told The Columbian just before “gain-sharing” passed in 1998 that “her union takes issue with some aspects of the bill, especially the provision that half the extraordinary gains be used to pay off the unfunded liability early.” (“Bills would share gains from state pension funds,” 2/4/1998)

Unsurprisingly, even with unions only getting half their loaf of “gain-sharing,” Washington’s public employee pension funds are in a world of trouble. The AP reported on Saturday that the unfunded liability in two fund plans now totals $5.7 billion, including $900 million to be paid out as “gain-sharing”.

In order to make this fiscal medicine ($6.7 billion) go down, the legislature had to add “lots of sugar” in other benefits ($4.4 billion). To make the switch final, lawmakers included a “poison pill” that automatically repeals the new benefits if the old ones don’t get repealed.

But the WEA is determined to have its cake and eat it, too. Not only does its lawsuit ask the judiciary to block the repeal of “gain-sharing”, it also demands that the “poison pill” be blocked and the new benefits be kept as well. Instead of reforming the state’s overtaxed pension funds, the union is attempting to add new entitlements.

Should the judge comply — remember, this is in Washington, a state whose Supreme Court found that the First Amendment rights of labor unions trump the rights of individuals who don’t want to pay for union political activities — the union will have transformed a $2.3 billion savings into a $4.4 billion invoice for taxpayers.

Categories: Teachers Unions