Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Security’

Bold Policies Will Solve Retirement Inequality

Friday, September 27th, 2013

seiu-org-logoRondell Johnson is a 23-year-old baggage handler at the Philadelphia International Airport. He aspires to one day attend business school and prepare for a career as a real estate entrepreneur. But he, like many other low-wage workers who work full time for minimum wages, brings in “just over $15,000 a year before taxes.”

The poverty line for one person who lives alone is $11,490.

The latest Census Bureau data on poverty is a sobering reminder of America’s need to address income inequality. It’s also a wake-up call for lawmakers to create bold policies to strengthen our nation’s retirement system.

Under our current policies, retirement has become one of the greatest examples of income inequality in America. The availability of retirement savings is often tied to income for today’s workers who have fewer savings options than previous generations.

For low-wage workers such as Johnson, obtaining a secure job with decent wages feels difficult, and achieving a secure retirement is virtually impossible.

“I don’t want to retire where I started,” he says. “I started broke. I started in poverty. I’m going to retire into poverty, too? Then what has my life been about at that point?”

A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute shows Rondell’s story is more common today than it was 20 years ago. Our shift from traditional pensions to more individualized savings plans such as the 401(k) has helped spur retirement income inequality in America.

The majority of our most affluent workers have savings sitting in a 401(k) or similar retirement savings account which averaged $308,674 in 2010.

In contrast, only 52 percent of middle-class Americans have savings in retirement accounts where the average balance was only $34,981.

Retirement savings options and balances are severely low for America’s poorest workers who are less likely to have access to a retirement plan at work or cannot afford to contribute enough out of their own stagnant wages. Only 11 percent of workers, representing the lowest quartile, have any 401(k) savings. Their average savings balance is just $7,543.

The rise of the 401(k) has also helped lead to a greater reliance on Social Security. Although Social Security benefits were never intended to be a stand-alone retirement plan, it is the primary source of income for 65.3 percent of retirees.

Perhaps one of the boldest, income gap closing policies lawmakers can implement is strengthening Social Security by making everyone pay their fair share.

If wealthy bankers, CEOs, athletes and celebrities contributed the same percentage of their income to fund Social Security as the 99%, we would also be able to significantly improve benefits for current low-income retirees receiving $1,200 or less a month, deliver retirement security to more workers, and help close the wealth gap.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on September 27, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: KEIANA GREENE-PAGE.

 

Millennials Want the American Dream, Too

Friday, May 24th, 2013

austin-thompson-1Although our way of life is constantly changing in America, members of the class of 2013 have the same aspirations as generations before them.

They want to find good jobs, buy homes, raise families and later enjoy a decent retirement.

It will be decades before these young adults reach retirement age, but recent research from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) finds Millennials are already concerned about their ability to retire.

“I think it’s in the back of everyone’s mind. It’s the elephant in the back of room no one’s talking about,” says 29-year- old Oakland, Calif., resident Ebony Young.

Although it’s been several years since Young graduated from Oregon State University, she is still underemployed making it hard to prepare for her future.

“I worry about my retirement because I don’t have a plan. Right now, I don’t qualify for my employer’s plan,” says the temporary warehouse worker.

Like Young, much of the Millennial generation is suffering from stagnant or decreasing earnings, as well as high debt from student loans, credit cards and medical bills. More than half of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed.

Millennials are also less likely to have access to the three-legged stool of retirement? Traditional pensions, Social Security and personal savings? that provided retirement security to previous generations, according to NIRS researchers.

The NIRS study also finds Millennials want lawmakers to repair America’s broken retirement system by strengthening Social Security and creating a new pension system that would be portable and provide a reliable, monthly check to all those who contribute.

“The only thing I ever asked for in life is options. I would like to have a plan that I could pay into,” says Young.

Luckily, this Millennial, however, has an option. Last year, due in part to efforts of SEIU members,California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill to create the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Plan. The new hybrid savings plan would act as a supplement to Social Security and build on positive attributes of traditional pensions and defined contribution plans.

Young describes Secure Choice as a “breath of fresh air.” Wouldn’t it be great if more Millennials were able to breathe easier knowing they could still pursue that part of the American Dream that allows you to retire with dignity after a lifetime of hard work and playing by the rules?

This article was originally printed on SEIU on May 20, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Austin Thompson is the SEIU Millennial Coordinator.

Report: Security Screening Process Flawed, Leaves Dockworkers Jobless

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Thousands of longshore workers, truck drivers and other workers at ports across the nation are out of work, not because of a staggering economy, but because they are caught up in a backlogged, inefficient and often inaccurate screening process for background security checks.

According to a new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the federal Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) post-Sept. 11 port worker background checks have put thousands of otherwise qualified and experienced port workers on the streets instead of the docks until they gain their security clearance.

Most of the workers caught in this bureaucratic limbo are members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Longshoremen (ILA) and Teamsters (IBT).

 

The report is the first evaluation of the worker protections in TSA’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). It finds that thousands of workers—disproportionately African American and Latino men—have had to wait an average of seven months while their applications are reviewed, leaving them unable to work and support their families in the midst of a devastating recession.

According to the report, “A Scorecard on the Post-9/11 Port Worker Background Checks,” more than 10,000 workers had lost their jobs while awaiting TSA approval of their TWIC cards after the April 14 compliance deadline passed. Laura Moskowitz, a NELP attorney who led the study, says:

Due to serious problems with the FBI’s records, insufficient staffing and poor TSA screening protocols, there have been major processing delays for workers at ports, which means that large numbers of hard-working families are being left out in the cold at the worst possible time.

To be approved for access to the ports, applicants are subject to criminal background checks using the FBI’s database, immigration status and other security checks. However, the report notes that 50 percent of the FBI’s rap sheets are incomplete or out of date. Contrary to the federal law, TSA denies credentials in an overly broad range of cases such as open arrests, even if they have been dismissed or addressed.

When a worker is denied a security clearance and decides to appeal, Moskowitz says:

TSA and the FBI put the entire burden on the worker to collect the necessary information to clear their records and navigate the process all on their own, which then leaves thousands of workers falling through the cracks of the TWIC program.

It also finds that while worker protections in the program’s appeal process take far too long, eventually almost all workers win their credential cards on appeal. More than 24,000 workers, largely African American and Latinos, were able to keep their jobs with the help of the special protections for workers who are initially denied a credential card based on their record.

The report offers a series of recommendations for TWIC reform, including expediting the cases of workers who have been shut out of the ports, tracking down missing FBI information before issuing denials, adopting strict timeframes for processing applications and better handling of applications from foreign-born workers.

Click here for a look at the full report.

Mike Hall: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

This article was originally posted at the AFL-CIO Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog