Opinion Columns & Blogs

Secure retirement savings easier for everyone – even without employer’s help

John Adams
John Adams Special to The Bee

Dignity in retirement. It’s something we all think about, but many of us don’t have a way to get there.

For some of us, it can be hard to get to the end of the month. A flat tire or engine problem, one more visit to the doctor, or another school expense can keep us from putting away money for the future.

As a member of my union, Service Employees International Union Local 521, I continue to fight for retirement security, and we have made sure that our coworkers will have something more to retire on than Social Security.

Just having secure retirement for one group of people doesn’t help build our communities. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed the California Secure Choice Retirement Bill, Senate Bill 1234, legislation sponsored by state Sen. Kevin de León and supported by SEIU.

It will allow private sector workers without access to an employer-based retirement system to start saving for retirement through a payroll deduction. This common-sense legislation will help over 50 percent of California private-sector workers who aren’t covered by a retirement plan.

Almost 60 percent of women aren’t covered by a retirement plan. Our youngest workers are in such bad shape that over half of young workers have projected retirement incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Here’s how it works: Every California worker in the private sector who doesn’t have an employer-based retirement has a choice to participate in a program where 3 percent of his or her paycheck goes into a retirement account. People can opt out or change the amount, but making it easily accessible at work means more people will take advantage of the program.

I worked in the private sector for over 20 years and saw my pension and other benefits go away as my employer cut and cut perks that lured me to the company in the first place. My defined-benefit pension was changed to a 401(k) retirement account. Now I am with a public entity and have a more secure retirement again.

However, I have kids who may not be able to do as well as I have. I have friends and family who will benefit from this new program. I will benefit because I can sleep well knowing that people won’t have to work until they’re 80 just to pay the rent. Call it a tenet of my faith or having strong morals, but I believe we need to take care of each other and provide the means for each of us to take care of ourselves.

I’m also glad that my union spent the last four years standing up for something that will help so many workers in California. Doing the right thing is too rare in this world, and it makes me proud to be part of a union that supports all working people, whether they are union members or not.

I am OK (for now) as far as retirement plans, but I am personally aware of home health care workers who make much less than me and have no retirement benefits. There is currently no mechanism for the working poor, such as home health care workers to establish an Individual Retirement Account, an account professionally managed with low fees and easy enrollment.

Secure Choice offers a mechanism for the working poor to establish some retirement savings.

SEIU Local 521 members recently participated in an event hosted by Faith in the Valley (part of the PICO National Network) in Fresno to bring people of all faiths together to build power in our communities. Working for worker dignity and strength in our communities is what has made both organizations great.

Bringing our faith and morals to our working conditions helped make America great. Making sure that working people have a chance to retire without living in poverty is one of the great moral issues of our time.

In the Valley, we know that we need to take care of each other. Thank you Gov. Brown for signing the Secure Choice Retirement Program that will help build us up and allow us to take care of ourselves for stronger families and dignity in our retirement.

John Adams has worked for Fresno County for 14 years. A husband and father, he has four grown children and 11 grandchildren. They are are expecting two more granddaughters, one in November and one in February. Write to him at john.adams2000@yahoo.com.

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