Public employees speak out on what PERS cuts would mean to them

May 14, 2019

In a public hearing about SB 1049, teachers, firefighters, child welfare workers and other public employees testified about what it means to have a career in public service and the importance of PERS for a secure retirement.

According to research by the Oregon Center for Public Policy, Oregon educators already earn 22% less per week than their private sector peers. Retirement benefits help alleviate this “teacher penalty” that educators pay for their service. Lindsay Ray is a math teacher in Beaverton. She reminded lawmakers that 30% of educators are eligible to retire and that cuts to retirement benefits will make the teaching profession less appealing than it already is.

“I regularly put in 50- and 60-hour weeks to make sure my students have an awesome and fulfilling educational experience in my classroom. I spend my own money on supplies for my classes,” said Ray. “But all that is worth it, because I love being a teacher, and because I know I’ll have a solid retirement to reward my service to my community. Senate Bill 1049 hurts the promise of that retirement and would pressure some of my colleagues into retiring before they need to, robbing our schools of experience, and robbing our students of good teachers.”

Matt Brozovich is a Salem firefighter and Tier 2 PERS member. Under SB 1049, he would lose 12.5% of his PERS Individual Account Program, according to analysis provided to the Joint Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Construction last week.

“The cut to my Individual Account Program would be significant to me and my family,” Brozovich told committee members. “When I was hired, I was promised a secure retirement that was already cut once in 2013, when my pension was reduced. It’s time for lawmakers to stop playing political games with our retirements and protect our retirements.”

Public sector jobs already pay less than similar jobs in the private sector and working conditions are often difficult or dangerous. as Corporal G. Clouser, who works at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla traveled to Salem to testify about the impact of SB 1049 on both himself and his workplace.

“Conditions in state prisons are so extreme that corrections officers have the highest PTSD and divorce and death rates of any profession,” Clouser testified. “Without a secure retirement benefit we will be even less able to recruit and retain qualified officers, which will mean increased risk for both staff and inmates.”

Oregon’s child welfare division has made headlines for chronic understaffing over the past two years, with caseloads three times the recommended level and high turnover rates. Reducing compensation through SB 1049 will make a bad situation even worse according to Andrea Kennedy-Smith, who works for the child welfare office in Beaverton.

“People who do child welfare work understand that we are never going to get rich, but we do the work because we care about serving our communities and we have traded lower salaries in exchange for a secure retirement. We have kept our end of the deal. State lawmakers should do the same,” she said in submitted testimony.

SB 1049 reduces retirement benefits by cutting PERS member’s Individual Account Program (IAP), a significant portion of the PERS benefit. According to PERS, SB 1049 would cut the IAP as follows:

  • Tier 1 employees would see a 7.8% reduction.
  • Tier 2 employees would see a 12.5% reduction.
  • OPSRP employees would see a 7.1% reduction.

SB 1049 also cuts in half the assumed interest rate for the PERS money match program, even though those benefits have already been earned. Should SB 1049 pass, the state will be facing another long and expensive legal battle because the Supreme Court has already ruled that the state cannot cut benefits already earned.

After several of the benefits cuts passed in 2003 and 2013 were found illegal, PERS members sued and the state had to return more than $7 billion.


About the Keep Oregon’s Promise Coalition

The Coalition is made up of the people who teach our children, protect our life and property, repair our roads and bridges, and keep our communities healthy and safe. Members include:

Oregon Education Association, SEIU Local 503, Oregon State Firefighters Council, Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon AFSCME, American Federation of Teachers, Oregon School Employees Association, Teamsters Local 223, District Council of Trade Unions, Association of Engineering Employees, American Association of University Professors, Oregon State Police Officers Association, Association of Oregon Corrections Employees, Portland Police Association, Oregon PERS Retirees, Inc., Professional and Technical Employees Local 17