Public employee pensions under attack around the state

Spurred by the collapse of Wall Street and an angry public mood, Republican and some Democratic leaders are focusing with increasing intensity on public workers’ pensions, using the benefits paid to public employees as a scapegoat and obstacle to closing the state budget gap.

This scapegoating has prompted six unions representing roughly 37,000 employees to accept contracts recently that included lower pension benefits for new hires and increases in what employees pay toward their retirement savings. The deals also include some future raises and job protections.

These deals represent a big win for the governor and a stark concession for the unions that could reverberate at the bargaining table for 16 other state employee unions currently working without contracts.

Meanwhile, the University of California, facing an estimated $20-billion deficit in its retirement plan, released a proposal last week to reduce the amount it spends on employee benefits.

The proposed changes at the UC would reduce benefits for new employees starting in 2013, raise the minimum retirement age from 50 to 55, shift some health-care costs to employees, and sharply increase employer and employee contributions to the system’s struggling pension plan.

To date, no such pension roll backs have been proposed for CSU faculty members by either the CSU Chancellor’s Office or Governor’s Office.