Big Labor Pension Strategy: United States of Argentina?

by Ivan Osorio on April 19, 2010

in Bailout Watch, Economy, Labor, Regulation

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andrew Stern made a big splash last week, when he announced his retirement from leading what is arguably America’s most powerful union. As I noted then, Stern leaves SEIU with the union’s pensions for rank-and-file members seriously underfunded.

Yet he may have a plan to bail out those pensions — at taxpayer expense. Worse, Stern and his labor allies are working with the Obama administration to facilitate a direct government takeover of pensions. (It’s worth noting that the Obama administration includes a lot of organized labor appointees, especially from SEIU, as well as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economic adviser, Jared Bernstein, who was previously chief economist at the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute.)

As The Washington Examiner‘s Mark Hemingway explains, one vehicle being used to push this agenda is the  White House’s Middle Class Task Force.

The section of the [Task Force's] report devoted to “Protecting Workers and Creating Middle-Class Jobs” reads like organized labor’s policy wish list. It pushes expensive “high road” federal contracting, plans for project labor agreements, enforcing labor standards, a “National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force” and, most perniciously, “retirement security.”

Social Security is bankrupt and the average union pension plan only covers 62 percent of its liabilities, well below the 65 percent threshold at which the government considers the plan “endangered.” Given these facts, the Economic Policy Institute has teamed up with two of the most powerful unions in the country — the AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union — to push something called “Retirement USA” (visit Retirement-USA.org).

Retirement USA looks like a scheme to prop up trillions of dollars worth of failing pension plans by seizing your personal savings. It would create a universal retirement plan for all Americans that centralizes all existing retirement plans — including your personal 401(k) savings and private pension plans — into the same retirement system.

Free-market advocates often accuse those on the Left of trying to turn America into France, but would follow a model even more bureaucratic and dysfunctional: Argentina, where the government of President Cristina Fernandez (pictured above) has seized pensions to pay for its profligacy. Kirchner seems to have learned little from her country’s epic economic decline during the 20th century, which was due largely to abysmal policies. For America to consider something even slightly similar today is terrifying.

For more on pensions, see here, here, and here.

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