In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, attacks against Social Security, public sector pensions, Medicare and other social safety net programs have escalated -- all part of an ominous political thrust to shift the burden of the municipal, state and federal budget crises to working families and the poor.
The attacks on these programs constitute a major threat to the wellbeing of the next generations of American workers, as well as to those currently depending on retirement, survivor or medical benefits.
In response, the Retirees’ Chapter in October 2010 formed a Social Safety Net Working Group. At it February 2011 meeting, the PSC Executive Council voted to expand what started out as a chapter initiative into a union-wide campaign.
The primary purpose of the campaign to:
Educate our own members, especially younger active members, about the issues.
Set the record straight about these programs by dispelling the misinformation used to undermine support for them.
Join larger coalitions already formed in defense of the social safety net.
The group, initially consisting of nine retirees, has been meeting regularly to review literature on safety net programs and to draft its own straightforward statements on three programs in particular to be used in an educational campaign:
The group’s first task was to draft a short, plain-spoken booklet explaining the programs and why their support is crucial. Its second was to plan a major forum. The brochure, entitled “Defending the Social Safety Net: A Call to Action,” is now available in hard copy and online and is being used at campus chapter presentations and elsewhere. It will be available to other unions and civic groups with an invitation to “steal this book,” and use it in their own endeavors with whatever modifications they deem necessary to meet their particular needs.
Dean Baker, the keynote speaker at the 10/25/11 forum.
The forum took place on Oct. 25th at the Hospital Workers/1199 auditorium. An enthusiastic audience of about 200 people, young and older PSC members, students, and representatives of other unions and advocacy groups, filled the hall. The keynote speaker was the economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic & Policy Analysis.
Baker was followed by Kimberly Phillips-Fein of NYU, who spoke on the attack on Social Security. After that, James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute discussed the state budget context, and Frances Fox Piven concluded the event with a call to action.
Safety Net team members Cecelia McCall and John Hyland distributing brochures at NYSUT RA, April 2012.
Along with the forum and the brochure, members of the working group have been visiting PSC chapters to present and discuss important information on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and pensions. These activities are motivated by a desire to interest and engage the whole union, both in-service and retiree members, in this important project. It will take the energy of all of us, now and in the future, to maintain and advance the safety net benefits so essential to all of us. (A slide show used at these chapter presentations is available as a Powerpoint presentation and a PDF.)
The work of the Social Safety Net Working Group complements that of the PSC on budget and contract issues, particularly as the response to the attack on public sector pensions affects how we fight against CUNY budget cuts and for a successor PSC-CUNY contract. As a result, the Social Safety Net Working Group will coordinate its work with the PSC Legislative and Contract Negotiating committees.
The PSC Safety Net Working Group produces a monthly e-newsletter with news and activities keyed to the defense and expansion of the social safety net. Click here if you would like to subscribe.
Join the work of the Safety Net Working Group: Now that the work has been expanded to a union-wide campaign, the Safety Net Working Group welcomes active as well as retiree members to join its effort. If you are interested, contact one of the group’s co-chairs:
We also welcome other organizations and activists to join us. You can contact us by clicking here.
Seeking Personal Stories About Social Security: Do you have a story about social security benefits that you would like to share with the membership?
The Social Safety Net Group is seeking testimony from members whose lives were made more secure because of Social Security as they - or family members - faced issues involving retirement, disabilities, loss of parent, or loss of spouse. The committee is interested in putting a "human face" together with the intellectual arguments needed to protect Social Security from the efforts to diminish its benefits.
Click here for a form to write and submit testimony.