Sunday, August 30, 2015

Notes from a Wyoming union meeting

Wyoming Retirement System Director Ruth Ryerson speaks at Friday's town hall meeting sponsored by the Coalition for a Healthy Retirement at the WPEA delegate assembly in Cheyenne. On the job for two years after stints in Colorado and Texas, she's upbeat about the healthy state of WRS, adding that "the majority of your legislators gets it; the Governor gets it."
Wyoming is a right-to-work state.

Stop laughing all you Wyomingites currently enjoying the right to work two or three or more jobs.

Here's a Wyoming joke:

Q: "What do you call someone in Wyoming working three jobs?"

A: "Under-employed."

Statistics show that Wyoming state employees make 13 percent less than our colleagues in private industry. Our benefits, however, are worth 21 percent more than those in private industry. Those benefits include a public pension, an old-fashioned defined benefit plan where retirees work 25 or 30 years and retiree with a defined monthly benefit for the rest of their lives. Wyoming also offers a defined contribution plan, known by the feds as a 457 plan. You put some in every month, as does your employer. This nest egg grows and grows and by the time you retire, you have a kabillion dollars in the account, enough to buy a solid gold humidor for your mansion in Dick Cheney's Jackson Hole gated community. Many have these plans as 401(K)s. My wife, for instance. All of those folks are supposed to save enough in those plans to retire to a life of leisure.

National statistics show that the average amount in a retiree's 401(K) is $18,000,

That, coupled with Social Security, may be enough to see you through to your date with the Grim Reaper. It also may allow you the right to work at McDonald's.

I spent the past three days at the delegate assembly of the Wyoming Public Employees Association. It's my union, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union or SEIU. My first time at the assembly, even though I've been a union member for most of my 24 years with the state. Members are snowplow drivers, nursing assistants at the state hospital, clerks, mechanics, supervisors, veterans outreach specialists and even a stray arts administrator -- me. Some of my colleagues in larger, more union-friendly states, call themselves "arts workers." I like the sound of that. I feel that my work at the Wyoming Arts Council has paved the way for the Wyoming arts boom of the past five years. With more good things to come. My fellow union members feel the same way. They make Wyoming a better place to live. When my car spun out last February between Rawlins and Muddy Gap, the first person to stop to help was a WYDOT snowplow driver. Nurses and CNAs at the State Hospital in Evanston took care of my daughter when she was a patient there last year. All these people get paid 13 percent below their Nebraska colleagues. Yet they do their jobs with dignity and aplomb.

Still, we heard that our supervisors are taking much longer to hire replacements for those who retiree or leave for jobs in Colorado. Increasingly, those people are not replaced at all and we do the work of two people instead of one. That increases the danger to patients and staff at places such as the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander. How many Republican legislators want fewer snowplow drivers clearing the summit between Cheyenne and Laramie as they drive over to a UW football game? Do they think about that when they're calling state employees "bums?" Or when one of our Republican legislators, Rep. Harlan Edmonds, said this during the last session (as remembered by Rep. Mary Throne, who spoke at the assembly): "Our problem is not keeping the good state employees but getting rid of the bad state employees." Edmonds is a state employee. It's possible that Edmonds may be a good state employee, but he's in the "very bad" category as a legislator.

I often wonder if these Tea Party types know there is such thing as Facebook and blogs, places where their hateful words live forever?

I'll write more about these topics in the coming weeks. The upcoming legislative session looks to be combative as the state faces revenue shortfalls with the dip in oil, natural gas and coal revenues. Stay tuned....

Note: See more photos from the assembly on my Facebook page

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