Saturday, December 28, 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A Beautiful Death

A Beautiful Death by Get The Flick
A Beautiful Death, a photo by Get The Flick on Flickr.

I searched for some appropriate words -- a poem or a quote -- but I couldn't find any. Retirement gives you time to think -- even about such things as the simple beauty of a leaf, from birth to death. We humans should do so well.

Don Brown
December 7, 2013

Friday, December 06, 2013

Controllers: Become Leaders


NATCA's convention is right around the corner. Instead of wasting your time on the endless seniority debate or trying to figure out how to pay less dues, I want you to consider becoming a leader. Not just a leader of controllers, but a leader of your country.

Specifically, I want you to lead controllers and convince them they should lead the nation. There are two issues of national importance in which I believe controllers could become effective advocates. I want you to consider writing a resolution for one (or both) of these and submitting it to the convention.

1) End the cap on income subject to Social Security tax.

Currently, any income above $113,700 is exempt from the 6.2 percent payroll tax that funds Social Security. I'll leave it up to you to come up with an argument that will win the day. That has never been my strong suit. I can only tell you that it is the right thing to do. The fact that it would put controllers in a good light with the pubic would just be a bonus.

2) Get air traffic controllers back on a regular pension plan and off FERS.

I realize that these two proposals might (at first) seem contradictory. In case you didn't know, employees on the old Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) didn't pay Social Security tax because they weren't eligible for Social Security. I'm advocating a total makeover for pensions so the role of Social Security in Federal pay is up for debate as far as I am concerned. The real debate is for having a pension as opposed to this poor substitute called a 401k. It is summed up succinctly on Bill Moyer's page (by Lynn Stuart Parramore).

It was an extraordinary shift in thinking about public policy: Instead of having predictable streams of income from traditional pensions, ordinary people with little financial expertise would suddenly transform themselves into financial gurus, putting money aside and managing complicated investments in tax-deferred accounts.

We all know controllers that failed to "transform themselves into financial gurus" and wound up in trouble. If it can happen to a group as clever as controllers, imagine what has happened to the rest of America. This idea of pension reform might be more popular than eliminating the income cap on Social Security tax but, regardless, it's still the right thing to do.

To elaborate a little more on pensions, I believe NATCA (and Labor in general) should advocate for required payments to pension funds. In other words, corporate promises to pay into funds have proved worthless in too many cases. Cash money should be put into the "bank". And when I say "bank", I'm thinking of the only entity you can really count on -- the U.S. Treasury. That's right, I think everybody's pension should be held in T-bills.

My intention here is not to get bogged down in specifics, it is to make you think. It is much easier to see how our current system is designed to confuse when you have people think of something much simpler. Long-term treasury rates of around 3% make you wonder how anyone can responsibly base a promised pension on a rate of return of 10% (over, say, 30 years). The simple answer is that that they can't. Keep going with this line of thinking and you'll see how big the lie Americans have been told really is. And, of course, you wind up realizing that the Mortgage Backed Securities that crashed our economy had nothing to do with making mortgages affordable and everything to do with stealing public employee (State and Local) pensions. Those pensions (by law) could only be invested in "safe" securities. Securities that had a "AAA" rating. It's less than amusing to realize that these "toxic assets" had triple-A ratings and America's bonds now have a AA rating. How's that for a big lie?

I've said that NATCA can lead Labor and the nation before. Here are two ideas that you can tell NATCA are worth pursuing and make it union policy to do so. You can put the wheels in motion to affect change on a national scale. Or, conversely, you can spend all your time trying to figure out how to get Saturday and Sunday off. It's your convention. It's your union. It's your country. The decision is up to you.

Don Brown
December 6, 2013

Thursday, December 05, 2013