NYSUT retiree leaders are ready, willing and able to stick up for themselves, and for the generations that follow.
"When our retired leaders face a challenge, they organize to fix the problem and find a solution," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who leads the union's retiree program.
"Your efforts were important to NYSUT's long list of accomplishments this year," said Ruth Dworkin, NYSUT's at-large retiree director, at the union's recent statewide retiree leadership meeting. "We are here to be informed about what's happening — and what needs to happen."
An urgent challenge is the potential attack on Social Security from the under-publicized but highly powerful Deficit Reduction Commission, appointed by President Obama. The panel is filled with critics of Social Security from both political parties, including former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Democrat Erskine Bowles, who was chief of staff in the Clinton White House.
The panel's goals range from raising the retirement age to drastically slicing benefits for future recipients, and trying to revive the once-defeated "personal accounts" privatization scheme. An "up or down" vote on the proposals will take place before Congress leaves Washington for the last time in 2010.
Alex Lawson, communications director of Social Security Works, a pro-Social Security advocacy organization working closely with the AFT and NEA, urged all NYSUT members to contact their Congressional representatives and ask them to oppose the effort to undermine one of the underpinnings of America's promise to its citizens: a stable retirement. "You are in the front lines against people who've made gutting Social Security their life work," Lawson said.
Because some New York incumbents had not yet pledged to support strengthening Social Security, retirees were eager to remind them of the program's importance to all constituents. Dozens of phone calls were made from the conference to congressional offices.
"We speak not just for ourselves on issues like this," said NYSUT Board member Loretta Donlon, a retiree leader from Syracuse. "This is a pledge government made to all its citizens, including the young people we've devoted our careers to."
George Altomare, a retired UFT leader, said the dismantling of Social Security is not an issue retirees can rest on.
"Wall Street and the hedge fund managers have the money, but we have the people," he said.