From John Curry, March 17, 2009
These weren't the words of a CORE member .....they were the words of an investigative reporter who was a nominee for a Pulitzer Prize in newspaper journalism for his 2003/2004 STRS investigative series with the Canton Repository -- Paul Kostyu. Five years ago we were also dealing with another STRS "bonus issue"...some things just don't change much, do they? John
"Here’s what employees ought to do. If they really are dedicated to STRS and not driven by greed, prove it. Do they want the system to escape the scandalous morass of the last year and move forward? Stipulate in their lawsuit that if they win or settle, all the money received — the bonuses, attorney fees and punitive damages — goes into the STRS Health Stabilization Fund for retirees. If employees want to show they deserve the bonuses, then the money shouldn’t matter. Why punish the employer they supposedly love just to prove a point? Or is it really about greed?"
STRS employees should sue
By PAUL E. KOSTYU
Copley Columbus Bureau chief
Canton Repository, May 28, 2004
COLUMBUS -- The noninvestment employees of the State Teachers Retirement System should sue the pension fund. Doing so would tell us something about them.
Last week, the pension board rejected paying bonuses to 268 employees despite the recommendations of Executive Director Damon Asbury and Assistant Attorney General John E. Patterson. Both said the pension fund risked a lawsuit that it would likely lose. The employees should sue.
Asbury said the board had a legal obligation to pay the employees for completing their “stretch goals” in the 2002-2003 fiscal year. It wasn’t a stretch to see that those goals were really little more than what many considered the employees’ regular duties.
Paying the bonuses would perpetuate an STRS culture of entitlement, which flourished under former Executive Director Herbert L. Dyer. His undoing came from publicly proclaiming that the money flowing into STRS from members and investments was the board’s money to spend as it wished.
But the culture enveloped more than employees. The so-called 13th benefit check was sent to retirees for years while investments were good. They depended on the extra monthly payment, which they felt they deserved and had been promised. That entitlement ended when investments soured in the early 2000s. Nobody sued the system.
Health care is another STRS entitlement. The system is not obligated by law to provide health care coverage, but it does. Asbury has said there is no retirement without affordable health care. Sounds like a promise. But the care is no longer affordable for many retirees and their spouses. Nobody sued the system.
The bonus plan for noninvestment employees was abolished last week in the wake of questionable spending at STRS for travel, artwork, expenses and salaries. Surely employees are entitled to just one more bonus. They should sue.
STRS culture fits with an American culture based on greed. That’s the only way to explain why employees would sue. All those eligible for a bonus are the most highly paid STRS employees. We’re not talking about the janitors, secretaries, security guards or any of the hundreds of other dedicated STRS workers.
We’re talking about their bosses, those who rake in high five- and six-figure salaries annually. We’re talking about many bonuses in the neighborhood of $30,000 and $40,000. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the person eligible for the lowest bonus — less than $200 — is a teacher.
The staff members receive regular compliments from the board about how wonderful they are, how hard they work, how dedicated they are to retirees, actives and the system.
The employees should sue. Let’s see how dedicated they really are. Do they work for a more-than-decent paycheck and the satisfaction of being STRS employees, or are they in it for every dollar they can grab in bonuses, even if they haven't done much to earn them?
Let’s not be too surprised if greed is the answer. We’re living in an era of corporate greed — Enron, Martha Stewart, Tyco and others. It’s a long list.
There was a time when people were satisfied with having a job. There was a time when people took pride in their work. There was a time when “nice job” was a sufficient bonus. Not anymore.
The employees should sue.
They need to do so soon, before tort reform kicks in and limits the amount they can recover. It’s hard to see how employees could collect punitive damages. There was no purposeful intent to harm them. They’ll ask for damages any way — attorney fees, too. They’re entitled.
Here’s what employees ought to do. If they really are dedicated to STRS and not driven by greed, prove it. Do they want the system to escape the scandalous morass of the last year and move forward? Stipulate in their lawsuit that if they win or settle, all the money received — the bonuses, attorney fees and punitive damages — goes into the STRS Health Stabilization Fund for retirees. If employees want to show they deserve the bonuses, then the money shouldn’t matter. Why punish the employer they supposedly love just to prove a point? Or is it really about greed?
Employees should sue so we can find out.
I got a big bonus at the board’s meeting last week for doing my job. Several retirees, whom I’d never met before but who had been reading my stories about STRS, shook my hand.
“Thank you,” they said.