Teachers Threaten Strike in Kentucky Over Pension Cuts
Inspired by the West Virginia teachers strike, educators in Kentucky drove to the capital to fight a proposal that would have decimated their pensions.
Over the last few weeks, thousands of teachers from throughout the Bluegrass state have held daily rallies outside of the state capital in Frankfort urging elected officials to vote against Senate Bill 1. The proposal would have cut $4.8 Billion in benefits for public employees and retirees. The bill would also reduce Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA’s) from 1.5% to 1%, a 33% cut. In total, the changes to the pension system could cost Kentucky teachers about $65,000 in retirement benefits.
Kentucky officials say that these cuts are needed because the state has failed to fully fund their pension system. Even though a pension is a guarantee, the state has failed to hold up their end of the bargain. They have failed to pay their share of the pension requirements, leading to a $41 Billion deficit.
On top of these pension cuts, SB 1 would eliminate the pension guarantee for new hires. Instead, they would be given a 401k style plan. Of course, this plan would have no guaranteed payout and the state would not have the same financial liability, pushing it off onto the teachers and the local districts.
With such a dangerous bill in front of the Senate, thousands of teachers rallied at the State Capital and at their local elected officials’ offices. With chants like "We show up. We be loud. ... We won't back down. And we're going to vote in November” the teachers pressured Senators to table the bill on Friday. Even with the bill tabled, teachers do not believe that the threat is over. On Monday, the bill was returned to the Senate State and Local Government Committee, where more changes are expected to made with the hope of getting enough votes to further cut pension benefits to Kentucky teachers.
Some educators in Kentucky are even getting ready to up the ante by talking about a statewide strike. “I think that Gov. Matt Bevin is not going to listen to anything else,” Suzanne Sadler, a 33-year-old science teacher at Elkhorn Middle School in Frankfort, said of a possible strike. “He’s not listening to anything on Facebook. He’s not listening to our teachers who went to the Capitol. He’s just not listening, so we need to make him listen.”
While the Kentucky Education Association, the union that represents teachers throughout the state, have said that they are not yet ready to call for a statewide strike, their membership may force the issue, following the example of their neighbors in West Virginia.
With just 12 days left in the legislative session, lawmakers can expect more protests and rallies over the coming weeks.