Retired Teachers Meet Face to Face With Legislators to Discuss Policy Issues
“I always tell my colleagues, ‘Never go up against retired teachers,” Representative Matthew Lesser told a crowd of retired educators today. “You guys are smart and have a lot of time on your hands!”
In the biggest turnout ever for Retired Teachers’ Lobby Day, more than 200 retired Connecticut educators converged on the Legislative Office Building this morning to meet with Lesser and dozens of other elected officials about issues important to retired educators and public education.
The event, a joint effort of CEA-Retired, the Association of Retired Teachers of Connecticut (ARTC), and AFT Connecticut, brought longtime educators and legislators face to face to discuss issues important to both retired and active teachers.
“We are here to talk about funding for healthcare and pensions,” said CEA-Retired Legislative Committee Co-Chair Myles Cohen, a middle school guidance counselor for more than 37 years. “The state passed a budget that shortchanged retired teachers’ health insurance, which could go into bankruptcy. This is a big issue, and it’s time that retired and active teachers take a more vocal stand. Visibility is important. Retired teachers are reaching out in great numbers to their lawmakers, and we expect them to do the right thing.”
CEA-Retired Vice President Bill Murray said, “My message today is that the state needs to fully fund its share of insurance costs for retired teachers. For years, they didn’t pay their share, and now the fund is in danger of going bankrupt.”
“These are important issues,” CEA-Retired President Gloria Brown agreed, “and we need to be heard.”
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg told the retired educators that no legislators are proud of how things stand with teachers’ pensions. “I like idea of monetizing the Connecticut State Lottery,” he said.
Rep. Antonio Guerrera said, “I am with you 110%. As legislators, we have dropped the ball when it comes to fully funding your retirement. Many of my colleagues now have an opportunity to put that money back where it should be—but you have to talk to your legislators,” he urged the crowd.
“This is your building,” said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz. “Share your thoughts and ideas, we do take them to heart.”
The retired teachers did just that. Many CEA-Retired members had scheduled face-to-face meetings with their lawmakers, either in small groups or one-on-one.
Retired Hebron teacher Althea Carr told Rep. Robin Green, “When I retired a little over five years ago, I thought I was all set in terms of health insurance. Now it’s scary with the changes to our health insurance, we don’t know how it’s going to work.”
“If you’re having concerns that means others have concerns,” said Green, as she assured Carr she would look into the matter further. “It’s scary to pay more when you have a set budget.”
Carr also questioned why teachers were targeted with an increase in their pension contribution, “I don’t know of any other group singled out like that.”
More than a dozen teachers spoke with Senator Mae Flexer outside her office.
“I will try to do what I can to correct the situation with your healthcare,” Flexer told the group, and said, “Your presence here this week is timely.”
Retired teachers criticized the recommendations of the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth, and many legislators agreed.
“It’s a huge problem,” Flexer said of the Commission. “If we were to follow the recommendations of a bunch of rich white men, and one woman, we’re in big trouble.”
Bernie and Jane Schreiber, both retired teachers, joined retired educators Karen Dibala and Kathy James-Stebbins in Rep. Gregg Haddad’s office.
“We just found out our healthcare funding is in trouble,” the Schreibers said. They also criticized the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth, saying, “We elected you guys to do the job, not a small group of businessmen.”
Haddad agreed, “Those are promises we made and need to keep, and we can’t reduce benefits unless we’ve exhausted all other options—which we haven’t.”
“The fiscal stability commission is saying we should cut taxes on the rich and take away retired teachers’ benefits,” Lesser said. “I think that’s outrageous. Our job is to keep our commitment to you.”
“I wish you all didn’t have to be here, it’s embarrassing actually,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle. While teacher pensions need to be addressed, Lavielle said, “I’m even more concerned about your health care. When setting priorities, we’ve got to fulfill the promises we made.”
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