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What Unions Could Learn from AARP

Last week the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) announced a major policy shift regarding Social Security. Formerly seen as the largest opponent to Social Security reform, AARP has recently acknowledged that the federal program cannot indefinitely pay out benefits at current levels. The group wants to see the program made “solvent” by making “minimal” changes. Unions could learn from this sentiment, instead they have brought legal challenges on reform efforts. On Monday the Florida Education Association, the main teachers' union in the state, filed a lawsuit against their Governor Rick Scott, challenging a new mandate that public employees contribute 3 percent of their salary towards their pensions. On Tuesday, 35,000 Ford employees filed grievances under a cost-sharing clause in their contracts. These employees are already paid $8/hour more than their non-union equivalents. Yesterday, the Communications Workers of America Local 1033 sued New Jersey for raising the amount that state employees contribute to their pensions. The AARP’s seeming willingness to compromise in order to offer long term solvency to Social Security is a compromise that unions would be wise to observe. Big Labor has dug in their heels all over the United States by opposing any reform to pensions or collective bargaining agreements. This stubborn reaction to change neglects that most states will be facing insolvent pension funds within the next 15 to 20 years. If unions won’t let states reduce their workforce, lower wages or restructure pensions, where will the money come from to fix pensions? The only option left is to raise taxes, forcing taxpayers to subsidize government employees’ retirement. If unions learned from AARP, they would find that reform is necessary for the retired people of the future. As see across the country, in both Democratic- and Republican-controlled states, union power is being reevaluated through pension and collective bargaining reform. By burying their heads in the sand and crying foul, unions will continue to be excluded from the negotiating table. This will continue to be a disservice to current union members and future members alike. Pensions must be reformed with or without union support. How can unions represent their members (their organizations' purpose) if they refuse to show up to the negotiating table?