Rally for ‘Social Security fairness for teachers’

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, are expected to join President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s niece, union officials and others Saturday for a rally “for Social Security fairness for teachers.”

Organizers say as many as 3,000 teachers might gather for the event from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. this Saturday, May 30 in the Berkeley Community Theater at Berkeley High School, 1930 Allston Way, to demand the repeal of legislation which currently keeps teachers and other public-service employees in California and 14 other states from receiving the earned Social Security benefits they’ve paid for and believe they’re entitled to.

Bills are pending in Congress – H.R. 235 by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles, and S.484 by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. – that would repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset.

The WEP requires that someone’s Social Security retirement or disability benefit be reduced when they’re also entitled to a pension from a job in which he or she didn’t pay Social Security tax; the GPO can reduce or eliminate the Social Security benefit for spouses, divorced spouses, and surviving spouses who also receive a pension based on their own work for federal, state or local government that was not covered by Social Security. Both became law in 1983.

The activists behind this rally say these provisions “have financially disadvantaged teachers for decades” by requiring that teachers who worked in the private sector before or during their teaching careers can’t collect full Social Security from deceased spouses or get the same Social Security payouts as other workers even if they paid in the same amounts. These provisions affect not only teachers but many other public-service workers including police, firefighters, and government service workers, they say.

The Assembly earlier this month voted 62-13 in favor of Torlakson’s Assembly Joint Resolution 10, urging Congress and President Barack Obama to repeal the provisions; the resolution is now pending before the state Senate.

Saturday’s rally is being organized by The Grassroots Committee For Social Security Fairness; co-sponsored by the California Retired Teacher Association; and supported by labor groups including the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • JK

    Is there no end to the amount of spending these politicians and government workers seek? These fools are bringing us to the brink of destruction.

    I would urge readers to consider this:

    “Right now, the United States has responded to a lack of demand for its Treasuries through a questionable and disturbing method: we’re buying our own debt. That allows the yields to remain low, but buying our own debt is somewhat akin to creating your own credit card. Eventually, you have to acknowledge that the money you create on the books never really existed, unless the United States plans to simply print money to pay off all the bonds. That would create a level of inflation not seen in the West since the Weimar Republic, and will effectively force the rest of the world to avoid U.S. currency and investments as unsound”

  • Jeff

    Locking your house financially disadvantageous to those who could otherwise steal from you. The proper question has nothing to do whether these provisions are financially disadvantageous to teachers, it whether these provisions are unfair or not. While I can’t speak to their exact implementation, they definitely have a sound rationale. And without a doubt removing them would be unfair to those in the Social Security system. Furthermore these politicians know it and don’t care. They are simply corrupt people. Nor can I say much the media that helps facilitate such things by failing to properly explain them. What is journalism that has little regard for truth?

  • Josh Richman

    Jeff — I’d say the fairness of these provisions will be in the eye of the beholder, for sure, but with several local lawmakers and as many as a few thousand people gathering Saturday to pick the fight, it’s news.

  • John W

    Have to agree with Jeff on the fairness point. The Social Security Administration does a pretty good job of explaining the rationale and how the adjustments actually work, with specific examples. I have a family member in teaching who is affected by this, but that doesn’t change the facts of the situation.

  • Jeff

    If fairness is simply in the eye of the beholder that implies that there is no way to test such questions against logic and shared principles and values. That leaves people deciding things solely based on whether it is good for them. The reality most people simply don’t know squat about so much of public policy and will often act on that ignorance if prompted by others telling them they are being treated unfairly. People have plenty of news and politics. What they lack is the kind understanding that help them be decent citizens. And politicians who aren’t ignorant themselves about such things yet exploit others ignorance for their own political ends shouldn’t be able to do so impunity.

  • aaron

    So then…can you give us laymen a simple clear explanation as to why person A–who works 20 years paying into Social Security and then becomes a teacher– and person B–who works 20 years paying into Soc Second and then retires…why should person A get less in Social Security retirement pay than person B? I want to understand. Aaron

  • Patty

    I am a teacher, and I, along with many others in the profession EARNED our social security benefits while working in the PRIVATE sector! It is totally unfair for us not to get what we rightfully earned. You should also know that we are not allowed to get our spouse’s benefits should he/she pass on before us.
    We are not ‘double dipping’…

  • Angela Ettinger

    I was a nurse for 20 years in hospitals and will receive no pension, but I did pay into social security. 4 years ago I began teaching. Is it fair that I will not receive social security payments for the money that I put into the system for 20 years? All I want is to receive the money that I have put in. If I can receive that money plus a very small teaching pension, I can retire and live simply. Otherwise, I will have to work til I am 80. I have taken good care of the patients I worked with and my students.

  • Jeff

    I can explain it if you are truly interested. But if you actually believe that the issue should be settled on a factual basis, please demonstrate that by asking this reporter and his editors to involve these politicians who are claiming teachers are being treated unfairly in a debate. Let’s publish the arguments before the public and if your case is persuasive then your cause may be advanced. If not perhaps my cause of holding politicians accountable will be advanced.

  • John Sphar

    Forget any discussion above, except for the issue of fairness! Why do state elected official & state employees get to “double dip” (receive their full private sector contributed social security benefit, as well as their state pensions), but not teachers and other public employees. It is all a matter of the “haves & have not’s” and most politicians don’t care because teachers are a minority voting block and the teachers don’t have any leverage over parents because this does not directly affect children. The teachers unions should be putting major pressure on Sacramento to change this injustice. It has lasted way too long.

    I too worked for a couple of decades in the private sector paying into Social Security and then recently became a teacher, losing my full SS benefits. But now because of the budget crisis, I have been “pink slipped” and may have to return to working in the private sector, so I may get doubly “screwed”, because I wanted to help struggling kids in our school systems. In this scenario I would receive reduced SS benefits and in pittance in the teachers pension for the few years that I have taught.

    It is extremely difficult for me to recommend for anyone to leave the private sector to go into to teaching from the experience I have had. And that’s bad news for education!

  • John W

    I’ll give a shorthand explanation here. For a detailed explanation, including online calculator, Google “social security administration government pension offset windfall elimination provision” Look for a social security administration listing. There is also a CALSTRS website that provides detailed information, with examples. There are two provisions that affect people with government pensions from jobs where nothing was paid into social security: GOVERNMENT PENSION OFFSET, which affects spouses and survivors of Social Security beneficiaries and the WINDFALL ELIMINATION PROVISION, which reduces benefits for people who worked some years in a government job where nothing was paid into Social Security and other years in a job where contributions were paid in. I’ll post something on each of these separately.

  • John W

    GOVERNMENT PENSION OFFSET: Affects spousal and widow/widowers benefits. These dependent’s benefits were designed to compensate stay-at-home (to raise family) spouses who were financially dependent on a working spouse. If a widow or widower worked and earned their own Social Security benefit, she or he would not receive both her or his own SS benefit and a spousal benefit. Similarly, if the spouse worked and is eligible for a government pension but did not pay into Social Security, she or he cannot receive both the pension and the full spousal benefit. So, the full amount of the Social Security spousal benefit is reduced by two-thirds of the government pension amount earned from a job where contributions were not paid into SS.

  • John W

    WINDFALL ELIMINATION PROVISION: Reduces but does not eliminate an earned Social Security benefit for somebody who paid into Social Security for less than 30 years and who also receives a pension from a government job where nothing was paid into Social Security. In normal SS calculations, the benefit replaces 90 percent of the first $744 of average SS monthly covered earnings, 32 percent of the next $3,739 of covered earnings and only 15 percent of the remaining covered earnings. Due to the bend points, lower income people get a significantly higher benefit return on their contributions than do higher income people. The WEP reduces the 90 percent portion (known as the first “bend point”) by 5 points for each year less than 30 years that the person paid into SS, up to 60 points. So, if a person worked 20 years or less, the 90 percent income replacement would be reduced to a 40 percent replacement. Without this, their benefits would be calculated as though they were long-term, lower-wage workers, entitled to the higher benefit return under the bend-point formula. They would get a better deal (return) from Social Security than somebody who earned the same amount in a job where they paid into SS for a full-length 30 year career. It’s a bit complicated, but, as the name suggests, it prevents people from getting windfall due to the way benefits are normally calculated. Before 1983, people did get the windfall.

  • Jeff

    John- try to find an newspaper article on this issue that included an explanation for its rationale. I had never read those SSA explanations but I understood the way benefits are calculated and hence understood the windfall that would accrue. What people fail to understand is that Social Security is a blended system of earned benefits and social welfare, and of course ponzi scheme.

  • Daniel Hunter

    I will be retiring from teaching, public high school, in nine days. My retirement income will be based on the 17 years I worked in public education. I also taught for 17 years privately. However I have been denined full social security because of the public service. I will receive about 45% of my social security…this does not seem fair….

    Daniel Hunter

  • Jeff

    Daniel, did you not understand the explanations given above? Why doesn’t it seem fair to you?

  • John W


    That 45% sounds about correct. Let me put it a different way. Let’s say another person did the same thing as you, teaching 17 years each in private and public school, with an earnings record identical to yours. The only difference, in this case, is that the person taught public in one of the states where teachers pay into Social Security. I can’t remember the exact number, but public school teachers do pay into SS in all but a few states. If the Windfall Elimination adjustment described above was not made, you would end up getting the exact same Social Security amount as the teacher who did pay into SS for all those years of public school teaching. How is that fair? If I were a teacher in one of those states, I’d be pretty upset if CA teachers got the same deal as me without having paid in during the public school portion of their career. CA teachers opted out of Social Security. That’s the problem. I presume the idea was to take the contributions teachers would otherwise pay into SS and pay them into the CALSTRS pension plan instead. Are the extent of the adjustment and the methodology exactly as they should be? I don’t know. But the rationale for an adjustment of some type is clear.

  • John W


    The WEP formula, as I understand it, only impacts that portion of earned Social Security that is based on the first bend point. It doesn’t affect benefits calculated on average monthly earnings over that amount — i.e., the second and third bend points. Normally, SS would replace 90% of the first $744 of inflation adjusted average monthly SS earnings. 90% of $744 is $670. In your case, with less than 20 years covered by SS, the WEP would reduce the replacement to 40% instead of 90%. So, the portion of your benefit based on the first bend point would be reduced to $298. That’s a monthly reduction of $372 or $4,464 annually. Sound about right?

  • Jeff

    The problem is indeed that some teachers and other state and local government employees aren’t in the Social Security system and use their political power to stay out of it. It’s not just ironic but hypocritical that Democrat politicians who endlessly demagogue on Social Security help keep their government special interest friends from bearing its costs and even try to create loopholes so they can further exploit it, as in this case. Even if these provisions remain in place, these government employee groups still benefit as a whole from avoided costs. That’s because state and local government workers as a group are relatively high earners and would be significant net contributors to Social Security’s welfare redistribution component. Because of that, bringing them into the system improves both its solvency and its fairness, causing honest reformers, even liberal ones like Peter Orzag, former head of CBO and current head of OMB, to include it in their reform plans.

  • John

    Jeff: A problem is that CA teachers who earned full social security credits outside of teaching are not allowed to collect social security EVEN IF they’ve paid into two separate systems (State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) as a teacher, and Social Security (SS) outside of teaching).

    It’s called the unequally applied (so called) ‘Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision.’ That is my circumstance and those of many of my retired teacher colleages who paid fully from their wages into two systems from two (private & public sector) income sources. This provision, and my ineligibility for SS was explained to me by a MEXICAN american SS worker. This MEXICAN american also explained that her mother, who came from Mexico, never worked in this country was eligible for, and got, over $800 per month of SS.

    Obama will legalize illegal immigrants and give them what working Americans have paid into to garner their votes for his party and a second term in the White House.

    Here’s some crap from/about Obama on this issue back when he was a Senator with Presidential ambitions. He’s a fraud who will say what he has to say to achieve his own ends. He’s the “change” his political cronies and illegal MEXICAN free loaders can “believe in.”

    In an October 22 letter, Senator Obama expressed his clear support for repeal of the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision. In his letter directed specifically to NEA members, Senator Obama states:

    “Nobody should be penalized for serving our children, and that’s why I support repealing the GPO/WEP and will work to do so as President…the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset have a serious detrimental impact on hundreds of thousands of educators and your spouses. That’s why as a Senator I co-sponsored the Social Security Fairness Act, which would repeal these provisions….I believe that we have a responsibility to take care of workers who have devoted their lives to public service and that we shouldn’t discourage young people from working in these essential jobs at a time when so many teachers are at or near retirement age and we’re struggling to replace them.”

    “I will work to repeal GPO and WEP, but I won’t stop there. We need to think now about how we provide retirement security for today’s retirees and workers retiring 20 or 30 or more years down the road. Let me tell you about my comprehensive plan. It starts with protecting Social Security. It is one of the most successful social programs in American history, and we need to preserve and maintain it, without risky privatization plans….Improving retirement security for educators…will be a high priority for me as President.”

    “I greatly appreciate the support I have from the NEA, and I look forward to working with you as President to create the changes we all want to see in our country.”

    Stay Up-To-Date! The latest GPO/WEP news is posted on NEA’s Legislative Action Center at http://www.nea.org/lac/socsec/index.html.

    In an earlier 6/5/2007 letter Obama writes:
    Dear Robert:

    Thank you for contacting me with your opposition to the GPO/WEP.S.206, the Social Security Fairness Act of 2007, would correct the inequities that the GPO/WEP creates for many Illinois retirees. I am pleased to inform you that I am a cosponsor of this legislation.

    S. 206 has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. While I do not serve on that panel, I will urge my colleagues to consider this important legislation. Robert, thank you once again for writing. Please stay in touch in the future.


    Barack Obama
    United States Senator (& lying FRAUD)

  • Jeff

    John- I guess you didn’t bother to read the post that John W and I left that explained reason for the provisions. What happened to your students when they didn’t know what they talking about because they didn’t read the material? Politicians are lying demagogues on this issue and do so mostly with impunity thanks to so-called reporters.

    Immigrants who never worked aren’t eligible for Social Security except through spousal or dependent status from those who have. They can be eligible for SSI, which is handled by the Social Security Administration but is paid out of general fund revenues.

    I agree that Obama wants to give amnesty to illegal immigrants and that will be a huge cost to the Social Security System and Medicare because of the incomes of that group.

  • ~ Richard ~

    If a senior citizen receives a monthly public-sector pension of $600 and qualifies for a Social Security benefit before Offset of $450, two-thirds (2/3) of the $600 (or $400) is subtracted from the Social Security $450 — resulting in a monthly Social Security benefit of $50….instead of $450. (Spousal-benefits are virtually eliminated, also.)

    Yet, the above senior citizen has paid the same Social Security taxes for the required number of years — exactly as a private-sector citizen has done.


  • Jeff

    Richard- you are mixing up “earned” benefits with spousal-benefits, which are more like social welfare gifts of other people’s money The calculations you describe are for the Government Pension Offset for the free spousal benefits, not benefits based on the recipient’s earnings. They are there because, for all those in the Social Security system, spousal benefits are offset dollar for dollar by benefits based on the spouse’s own earnings. It is designed to equalize that treatment for those who get government pensions instead Social Security pensions.

    For Social Security benefits base upon one’s own earnings, it the Windfall Elimination Provision that applies. The following chart can explain show how that affects benefits from earnings.

  • ~ R ~

    I’m not mixing up anything. The scenario typifies how the GPO/WEP affects people in 15 states.

  • Bonnie

    Hey, Jeff,
    The money that my spouse contributed to Social Security for the twenty years I was not employed in the workforce was also my money, according to community property laws. I later became a full time teacher, earning a retirement pension of about half of what I would have if I had worked all those early years.
    Homemakers who go into other professions or live in other states would not sacrifice their part of family SS earnings. Why is it “welfare” for me to ask for something back from all those years we contributed to Social Security?

  • While I am in complete agreement that WEP and GPO should be repealed, I feel it is also important to note that this is nice little PR ploy by our representatives.

    Similar legislation has been proposed over the last 5 years or more with substantial bipartisan support (in fact cosponsoring it) to no avail. The bills never leave committee, thus there is no reason to worry about passing it.

    Every cosponsor (304 & 29) can go home and point to these bills as fighting for the people, but they obviously are not.

    I hope it passes, but I am tired of the PR positioning of our politicians.

    You can see my post on the subject at my blog – The Educator’s Retirement – that points to several facts involved.

  • joe bogowski

    It is estimated that the United States is going to spend over 4 Trillion Dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and that doesn’t include the cost of rebuilding those rat-hole countries. Meanwhile, the government says it can’t afford to pay Earned Social Security Benefits to seniors effected by WEP & GPO because it would cost 62 Billion Dollars over a ten year period. What is wrong with this country?

  • becjy

    Teachers who work in the private sector and pay into Social Security from that job, should receive benefits based on the time/amount paid into the syastem, just like anyone else. It is EARNED. It is NOT a windfall, and it is not “double-dipping”, as it is a separate thing altogether. Why should they NOT receive the EARNED benefits? I don’t think anyone who is in the situation feels that they should receive more than the benefits they have contirbuted to. Many of us MUST work another job to support our families due to the low pay we receive as teachers.. If we are not going to be allowed to tap into the earned benefits, then we should be exepmted ftom paying the Social Security tax, then we could fund our own separate savings with the money. Why should we contribute to a system that we are not able to use? I am donating thousands of dollars of extra money every year to others, to the detriment of my own family.

  • Norton

    Here is the problem . Public service and teachers unions decided a long time ago that social security wasn’t good enough for the them . Who wants to wait
    until 66 to retire . Just let the tax payers make sure
    there pentions are funded , here in Illinois they even
    passed a bill that guarantees these pentions . This
    bad economy has put a spot light on this unfunded
    pention problem . Why not take all these pentions and
    fold them into social security , where they should have been in the first place .