Category Archives: Benefits

The Surrender of Oakland: The 2012 National Agreement between the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions and Kaiser Permanente

Source: John Borsos, WorkingUSA, Volume 16, Issue 2, June 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
A new, controversial agreement negotiated by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU), led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) with Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest health maintenance organization, may portend a dangerous shift in labor relations in the U.S. In this case, it is the unconditional surrender of a union to a corporation’s agenda. The Surrender of Oakland—embodied in the 2012 Kaiser–CKPU national agreement—represents the complete capitulation of labor to management: in production, in marketing and capitalization, and even by allowing the employer to control Kaiser workers’ lives outside the workplace through an invasive wellness program. Abdicating their role as patient advocates, the new agreement requires SEIU and other coalition unions to promote wellness programs that may not be in anyone’s best interest except for employers trying to shift healthcare costs onto employees.

Truth in Numbers? A Brief History of Cuts to the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island

Source: Monique Morrissey, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #363, June 20, 2013

From the summary:
…This briefing paper provides an overview of the cuts to Rhode Island’s pension system since 2005. It begins by analyzing the cumulative effects on DB benefits of these cuts. It then examines ERSRI’s normal cost and unfunded liability, as well as benefit levels, prior to the cuts. Following this, the paper analyzes the changes ushered in by the first rounds of cuts (those in 2005, 2009, and 2010) and by RIRSA (which took effect in 2011). This narrative description of the changes since 2005 is followed by a timeline of the changes, which includes conservative estimates of the impact of successive cuts on benefits (see Appendix B for methodological details).

Principal findings include:
• Rhode Island was slower than most other states to fund its pension system. As a result, the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) had a shortfall even at the peak of the dot-com bubble, despite providing relatively modest benefits. Indeed, workers—many not covered by Social Security—contributed more toward these benefits than their counterparts in other states.
• While workers shouldered most of the cost of current benefits, employers failed to pay even their full (smaller) share, leaving ERSRI among the most underfunded plans in the country.
• Between 2005 and 2010, three rounds of cuts reduced pension benefits for a prototypical 30-year employee by 23 percent. Despite these cuts, the plan’s funded ratio declined further as a result of the 2008 stock market downturn.
• The funded ratio was further reduced by changes in accounting assumptions in 2010 that appeared timed to justify draconian changes to the system.
• The Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011 (RIRSA) slashed defined-benefit pension benefits by roughly half (less for short-tenure workers, more for long-tenure workers) and introduced a supplemental defined contribution plan.
o This hybrid plan costs taxpayers more than the old system despite providing a less valuable and less secure benefit to workers.
o When taking into account the supplemental defined contribution plan, a prototypical 30-year worker would experience a cumulative 34 percent reduction in benefits between 2005 and 2012, with a quarter of 30-year workers experiencing cuts of 40 percent or more, depending on investment returns.
o The savings from RIRSA come not from switching to a hybrid system, but rather from cutting accrued benefits—a move that is being challenged in court.

City Approaches to Public Pensions: Report

Source: United States Conference of Mayors, Volume II, June 2013

…This report, the fourth in the Conference’s series on city pension systems,… describes efforts undertaken in 19 cities of all sizes to reform unsustainable pension plans in which they are participants or which they administer for themselves. It builds on the report published by the Conference of Mayors in June 2012 which described responses being made to pension problems in 16 cities. Across the cities in that report, actions taken on pension problems included:
• increasing annual pension contributions for both cities and employees;
• eliminating benefit increases for current employees and offering fewer benefits for new employees;
• offering new employees defined contribution, not defined benefit, programs;
• lowering or deferring cost of living adjustments for both current employees and retirees;
• lowering benefit multipliers and benefit accrual rates;
• increasing retirement age and service requirements;
• increasing years of service used to determine final average salary for benefit determination; and
• modifying medical options and benefits offered.

The cities in this year’s report, as a group, describe approaches to pension problems that apply, in various ways, these same cost-cutting reforms…

In the majority of these cities, some or all public employees are enrolled in state-administered pension plans, and their reports reflect the fact that, while their ability to motivate and shape reform within these plans may be limited, they have been actively engaged in efforts to do just that. The individual city reports which follow were drafted by officials in the cities submitting them to the Conference of Mayors. They were edited for internal report consistency only; content and tone of the individual reports were not altered in this process. Following at the end of this report are brief summaries of the new public pension financial reporting standards developed by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, and the new Moody’s Investor Service approach to adjusting public pension assets and liabilities for use in the firm’s independent credit analysis….

The Retirement Savings Crisis: Is It Worse Than We Think?

Source: Nari Rhee, National Institute on Retirement Security, June 2013

From the summary:
New NIRS research finds retirement savings are dangerously low, and the U.S. retirement savings deficit is between $6.8 and $14.0 trillion. …The study broadly examines how American households are faring in relation to retirement savings targets recommended by some financial services firms. It uses the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances to analyze retirement plan participation, savings, and overall assets of all U.S. households age 25 to 64, not just those with retirement account assets. This is important because some 45 percent, or 38 million working-age households, do not households, do not have any retirement account assets.
The key research findings are as follows:
– Account ownership rates are closely correlated with income and wealth.
– The average working household has virtually no retirement savings.
– The collective retirement savings gap among working households age 25-64 ranges from $6.8 to $14 trillion, depending on the financial measure.
– Public policy can play a critical role in putting all Americans on a path toward a secure retirement by strengthening Social Security, expanding access to low-cost, high quality retirement plans, and helping low-income workers and families save.
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Collective bargaining and public policy: Pathways to work-family policy adoption in Australia and the United States

Source: Peter Berg, Ellen Ernst Kossek, Marian Baird, Richard N. Block, European Management Journal, Available online 31 May 2013
(subscription required)

From the summary:
Improving employer support of work and family demands of the workforce is a growing concern across countries, but the pathways to achieve improvements in employer adoption of work-family policies, particularly linkages between collective bargaining and public policy, are not well understood within and across national contexts. In this article, we explore the linkage of collective bargaining and public policy through a comparative case study of collectively bargained work-life flexibility policies (flexible scheduling, leave arrangements such as unpaid family- or health-related leave and paid annual/vacation leave) in two universities in the United States and two universities in Australia. These are critical policies that support the ability of national workforces to integrate work and family time over the life course. Cross-national comparisons are useful given considerable variation in government involvement in promoting these policies, variation in the interplay between employers and governments, and variation in the extent to which specific work-life provisions appear in employment labor contracts. Based on interviews conducted with managers, supervisors, and labor union representatives from 2006–2008, we find that the degree of centralized collective bargaining plays an important role in explaining differences in work-life flexibility bargaining outcomes across organizations and countries. In addition, bargaining outcomes are influenced by the floor established by public policy for particular practices, particularly parental and annual leave. This cross-country comparison study articulates the conditions under which collective bargaining and public policy can work together to further equitable employee access to work-life flexibility practices.

• Collective bargaining interacts with public policy in ways that lead to differential access to work-life flexibility across groups.
• Bargaining structure plays an important role in explaining differences in work-life flexibility bargaining outcomes across organizations and countries.
• Collectively bargaining for work-life flexibility in the U.S. requires favorable labor market conditions and high bargaining power.

A case study of a workplace wellness program that offers financial incentives for weight loss

Source: John Cawley, Joshua A. Price, Journal of Health Economics, Volume 32, Issue 5, September 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Employers are increasingly adopting workplace wellness programs designed to improve employee health and decrease employer costs associated with health insurance and job absenteeism. This paper examines the outcomes of 2635 workers across 24 worksites who were offered financial incentives for weight loss that took various forms, including fixed payments and forfeitable bonds.

We document extremely high attrition and modest weight loss associated with the financial incentives in this program, which contrasts with the better outcomes associated with pilot programs. We conclude by offering suggestions, motivated by behavioral economics, for increasing the effectiveness of financial incentives for weight loss.

Father of modern 401(k) says it fails many Americans

Source: Scott Tong, American Public Media, Marketplace, June 13, 2013

…The rise of the 401(k) and the fall of pensions
Big companies offered them first, and in the meantime started ditching pension plans, which were expensive. And before long, “401(k) became very popular for little companies to have, that never had any retirement program,” Benna said. Thus began the era of make-your-own-retirement. The American worker now faced a new choice: Spend my whole paycheck? Or take the employer match/bribe, and start saving? It made for some tension….By the mid ’90s, 30 million Americans had 401(k) plans. Do-it-yourself retirement seemed easy in the decade’s bull market….

…We know what came next, in 2000: the dotcom bubble burst. Then, in the financial crisis, the average 401(k) plan tracked by Fidelity Investments lost 27 percent….Today, the typical middle-class household nearing retirement has saved $120,000 — one-tenth what many say it needs. …

…It was never Benna’s idea for do-it-yourself to replace pensions. It just kind of happened…. Benna says the 401(k) was never meant to take care of everyone. It was simply a financial product that took off. …

The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School District Budgets

Source: Dara Zeehandelaar and Amber M. Winkler, Fordham Institute, June 2013

From the summary:
When it comes to pension reform in the education realm, it’s hard to stay positive. Here, we’re saddled with a bona fide fiscal calamity (up to a trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities by some counts), and no consensus about how to rectify the situation. No matter how one slices and dices this problem, somebody ends up paying in ways they won’t like and perhaps shouldn’t have to bear. All we can say is that some options are less bad than others. In The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School-District Budgets, we analyze and project how big an impact the pension and retiree health care obligations will have on the budgets of three school districts: Milwaukee Public Schools, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and the School District of Pennsylvania. The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School-District Budgets is a summary report by Dara Zeehandelaar and Amber M. Winkler, based on three technical analyses performed by Robert Costrell and Larry Maloney to be released by the end of Summer 2013.

The Role of Job Insecurity in Explanations of Racial Health Inequalities

Source: Andrew S. Fullerton, Kathryn Freeman Anderson, Sociological Forum, Volume 28, Issue 2, June 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The literature documenting substantial health differences for racial minorities in the United States is well developed and has considered a multitude of explanations for such disparities. However, the literature seldom addresses the health effects for racial minorities produced in the workplace. This study bridges these two literatures in order to understand the mediating role of job insecurity in explanations of racial health disparities. Our central argument is that racial differences in job insecurity resulting from the marginalized labor market positions of racial minorities are partially responsible for racial disparities in health. This study utilizes adjacent category and partial adjacent category logit models of general health using data from the 2000 to 2010 General Social Survey in order to test this claim. Overall, the results from this study indicate that there are substantial racial differences in job insecurity, and both race and job insecurity are important predictors of general self-rated health. Additionally, racial differences in job insecurity help explain a portion of the racial disparities in health. We conclude with a discussion of the implications for the study of health disparities in the United States.

Medical cost trend: Behind the numbers 2014

Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers, Health Research Institute, June 2013

From the summary:
Defying historical patterns—and placing added tension on the health industry—medical inflation in 2014 will dip even lower than in 2013. Aggressive and creative steps by employers, new venues and models for delivering care, and elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are expected to exert continued downward pressure on the health sector.

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