By Mike Myslinski
For San Francisco Bay Area middle school teacher Karin Alexander, the decades-old injustice of educators in California and 14 other states being denied full Social Security benefits just because they chose to teach was too much to take.
So Alexander mobilized, recruiting many other supporters, and the result was a huge May 30 rally in Berkeley attended by about 1,800 Bay Area teachers, parents, state lawmakers and others. The remarkable "Social Security Fairness for Teachers" rally at Berkeley High School was covered by local media and reintroduced this injustice to new supporters.
"No campaign for equal rights has ever been won based on silence," said Alexander, a teacher at Iron Horse Middle School in San Ramon Unified School District. "People in public service who dedicate their lives to helping others should not be penalized for doing so."
She spoke at the rally, as did CTA Secretary-Treasurer-elect Gail Mendes. "Due to the state budget crisis, some lawmakers want to cram as many children as they can into our classrooms — and attack our health benefits," said Mendes. "Federal lawmakers want to continue shortchanging us on our Social Security benefits. No wonder school districts are finding it hard to recruit and retain teachers in California."
Teachers and other public service workers in California and 14 other states are shortchanged on benefits because of two federal laws that penalize people who held private sector jobs before becoming public employees by denying them full Social Security benefits.
The 1983 Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) requires that a teacher's Social Security retirement or disability benefit be reduced when they're also entitled to a public pension from a job — such as teaching — in which he or she didn't pay Social Security tax. In California, teachers pay into the State Teachers' Retirement System, but not into Social Security.
The Government Pension Offset (GPO) became law in 1977 and can reduce or eliminate the Social Security benefit for spouses. Nationwide, nine out of 10 public employees subject to the GPO lose their entire spousal benefit, even if their deceased spouse paid Social Security taxes for years, according to the National Education Association.
In an Oct. 22, 2008, letter to NEA, then-Sen. Barack Obama expressed his clear support for repeal of the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. "Nobody should be penalized for serving our children, and that's why I support repealing the GPO/WEP and will work to do so as president. The Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset have a serious detrimental impact on hundreds of thousands of educators and your spouses."
CTA has worked for years with NEA to pass laws to repeal the WEP and GPO. Marc Sternberger, a teacher in Pittsburg Unified who was recently elected the CTA Board member representing California delegates to the NEA Board of Directors, also spoke at the rally. Two federal bills to repeal these unfair laws are pending in Congress: H.R. 235 by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Los Angeles) and S. 484 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California).
As local newspapers reporting on the rally noted, the state Assembly earlier in May voted 62-13 in favor of Assembly Member Tom Torlakson's Assembly Joint Resolution 10, urging Congress and President Barack Obama to repeal the provisions. The resolution was pending before the state Senate at press time.
Speakers at the rally included Torlakson (D-Antioch); Janet Roosevelt Katten, the niece of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt; Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland); and past CTA President Ed Foglia, now president of CTA/NEA Retired.
To stay up-to-date on this issue, go to www.socialsecurityfairness.com or visit www.nea.org.