Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, CEA-Retired members are still meeting, volunteering, and staying engaged—virtually. At the CEA-Retired Annual Fall Conference yesterday nearly 200 retirees joined a Zoom call to hear the latest on politics, pensions, and public education.
With less than two weeks to go until the November 3 election, many speakers stressed the importance of voting for education- and labor-friendly candidates.
Retired Southington teacher Bob Brown, CEA’s Political Action Committee chair, told CEA-Retired members, “Every decision on your pension, on social security, on health care, on education funding—every one of those decisions is made by someone who is elected to office or appointed by an elected official. It’s vital to vote and vote for people who will listen to us and vote in our favor.”
Brown said that CEA’s Political Action Committee looked at candidates’ voting records, questionnaire responses, responsiveness to CEA inquiries, and consulted with local education associations to put together the CEA Legislator Report Card, District Comparisons, and Honor Roll, which includes Democrats and Republicans. “Please go to the CEA website and look at the scores for the candidates running in your town,” Brown said.
Former Oregon Education Association President Hannah Vandering, an NEA Executive Committee member, extended greetings to retired members from NEA leaders. “Having you as an involved group of retired members in this union is an important thread that helps hold this union together,” she said.
Vandering added, “Without you there talking to members of the General Assembly, we wouldn’t have the conversations we need to have about pensions, healthcare, and public education.”
With the election coming up, Vandering said that she, like many CEA-Retired members, has been calling battleground states and talking to fellow NEA members. “DeVos doesn’t believe in public education and is pushing for federal funds, during this difficult time, to be put into charter schools. We need a president that believes we need healthcare that’s not just for the wealthy. We need a leader that stands up for the middle class and fights for social and racial justice.”
CEA President Jeff Leake told attendees he appreciates their involvement with CEA-Retired. “Please get out there and vote for education-friendly candidates at all levels. We have the most favorable and friendly Connecticut delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, and we want to make sure they’re returned to their offices in D.C.”
A number of CEA-Retired members who now live in other states were able to join this year’s conference due to it being held virtually. CEA-Retired President William Murray encouraged those out-of-state members to not only register to vote, but to make sure they speak up and let their elected officials know their opinions on public pensions and healthcare.
“The stability of our pension fund depends not only on the Connecticut economy and state actions, but also on federal actions that affect public pension funds,” he said.
Federal issues that continue to be of significant concern to retired Connecticut teachers include the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduce the amount teachers can receive in Social Security payments for other jobs they have worked as well as the amount in Social Security spousal or survivor benefits they receive.
CEA-Retired Vice President Gloria Brown said that Connecticut’s Congressional Delegation is in support of repealing the provisions, but that, despite retirees’ tireless advocacy, rolling back the provisions is an uphill battle given that they only affect public employees in 15 states.
Brown serves on a committee of the Alliance for Retired Americans and said that they, along with NEA, are working hard at getting GPO and WEP rolled back.
“The importance of working to elect legislators who support us cannot be stressed enough,” Alicia Blake, campaign coordinator for the Connecticut Coalition for Retirement Security, told retirees.
She added that retirees’ advocacy will continue to be vital after the election. “We will certainly see legislation about public sector unions coming up during the 2021 Connecticut General Assembly session.”
Chances are good that the 2021 session will be remote, meaning lobbying will need to take on new forms, but will remain as important as ever.
Blake told CEA-Retired members, “Encourage your legislators to understand the importance of benefits and why they have to be preserved. We need to make sure all legislators understand that Connecticut teachers don’t receive Social Security, and that’s one of reasons you need your pensions to retire with dignity.”