News about the ORP campaign

Dear ORP faculty and activists – and SAC and chapter leaders,

Many of you have been waiting for news about the ORP campaign – with the expectation that the MTA and ORP faculty from the state colleges and university system would push to get our ORP bill (S1173) moved through the Legislature in the closing weeks of the current informal session. Unfortunately, such movement is not possible right now.

* The Board of Higher Education (BHE) does not support the bill in its initial form – or in the unofficial redrafted form, both of which are under review by the Senate Ways & Means Committee. The ORP bill would not move out of this Committee (or beyond) during this session without some support from the BHE.
* Additionally, the current re-draft of S1173 is not worded effectively to provide for a legitimate or smooth transfer to protect ORP faculty should they choose to move from their current pension plan to the SERS.
* The bill is in need of a substantive redraft that requires more input from MTA’s tax attorney and some attention to issues raised by Peter Tsaffaris, Deputy Commission of Employee Relations (concerns/issues that Higher Ed. Commissioner Richard Freeland wants addressed as well).

Background:

* Last month, MTA’s Higher Education Director, Donna Sirutis, Joe LeBlanc, CJ O’Donnell and Donnie McGee met with Higher Ed. Commissioner, Richard Freeland, and Peter Tsaffaris, Deputy Commission of Higher Ed. and Administrator of the ORP program at the BHE. At this meeting, Commissioner Freeland indicated he would support an ORP to SERS transfer bill; however, he wanted the bill to address the concerns Peter Tsaffaris raised at that meeting.
* A week later Tsaffaris delivered a 15 page document of current and past concerns, including copies of previous correspondence to legislative committees and to the MTA – stating his objections (and the Commissioner’s) to S1173. Donna and I spent hours reviewing these documents to identify legitimate concerns about the bill . We met this week to sort out what needed to be addressed, what was beyond the purpose and scope of this bill, and what needed further expertise or explanation to decipher.

Legitimate Concerns with current re-draft of S1173:

Neither the original and official S1173 bill nor its redraft is appropriately worded to provide for either a smooth or legitimate transfer of ORP faculty to the SERS.

* The bill needs major revisions to be sure that ORP pensions are safeguarded and that the State Retirement Board will be obligated to let faculty know what that cost is before a faculty member chooses to opt out of one system to get into another.
* MTA/union leadership needs to meet with the tax attorney again and possibly the State Retirement Board before the bill can be revised. (Terminology is flawed or inaccurate and the transfer/buy-in process needs clarity and legitimacy).
* I also plan to talk at length with Jim Russell, Chair of the Connecticut Commission for Retirement Equity, to get a better sense of how they are implementing the transfer of their Alternate Retirement Plan-enrolled faculty to the SERS. Connecticut won an arbitration award to allow some of their ARP faculty to transfer to the SERS, but they have had to extend the window of opportunity for such a transfer by several months because of the complications related to assessment of the transfer cost and the related paperwork process required for such transfer. They are also trying to address the IRS code compliance question.

Revision of the current ORP bill to be re-filed for the January 2011 session:

At this moment, our ORP bill needs substantive changes, changes that will take time to get the expertise needed to protect members and to decipher the legalese that Tsaffaris has put forth in his lengthy packet of communiqu├ęs and correspondence.

* The Commissioner is not willing to support our bill at all in its current form. His objection was formalized in a letter sent to the Senate Ethics & Rules Committee in May of 2010, a letter that neither the MTA nor union leadership knew about until this month.
* Without a partial buy-in on the part of the Commissioner, this bill has no chance of movement to the Senate floor or beyond. Few, if any, legislators would support a higher education faculty bill that the BHE is making a point of objecting to.
* The goal right now is to draft the best ORP bill possible and file it in time for the new legislative session in early January.

I know this is not the news that you or your ORP colleagues want to hear – nor the news I want to share, but this is the reality of where this ORP bill stands right now. I do believe that we can achieve success in the session ahead with this ORP campaign for retirement equity. Knowing the current BHE objections will enable us to craft the best bill possible as we move forward. Donna Sirutis and I also believe we can get some BHE buy-in as we redraft the bill.

In closing, I know this is terribly frustrating news and disappointing for everyone involved. Actually, that we came so far so fast is pretty remarkable – a tribute to all who worked on this campaign and lobbied so hard for our ORP bill. Thanks to all of you – and so many of your colleagues. As a result, we have a huge grassroots foundation on which we can continue to build to push this bill forward in the legislative process.

For those of you on MCCC’s ORP Ad Hoc Committee, let me know by November 29th if you would like to discuss these issues further at a mid-December meeting (13th, 14th, or 15th) at our Worcester office. Whether or not the Committee meets in December, the ORP Committee will meet in late January or early February. I will also keep ORP leaders and activists from unions other than the MCCC informed of future meeting dates related to this campaign in case they would like to send a campus representative.

Donnie

Diana (Donnie) McGee
MCCC Vice President & SAC Chair
Vice Chair of HELC and MTA Director
Cell: 508.415.1513
Email: vice-president@mccc-union.org