The State Worker

Faced with deep cuts to their pensions, these California retirees are asking CalPERS for help

The California Public Employees Retirement System may cut benefits to a group of 200 workers whose former employer stopped contributed to the fund.
The California Public Employees Retirement System may cut benefits to a group of 200 workers whose former employer stopped contributed to the fund. Sacramento Bee file photo

Looking back, Teresa Rojo thinks of her 27-year career at a Southern California job-training program as the “lifeline” that let her leave an abusive marriage and raise four children on her own.

It was “the one constant” in her life, and it’s about to let her down.

Now 61, she fears she’s facing poverty because her former employer quit paying its bills to CalPERS, risking the $35,000 pension that she thought she could count on in her retirement.

“We were never told that this could even be a possibility,” she wrote in a recent letter to the Board of Administration at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

She’s one of 12 former employees of the East San Gabriel Valley Human Services Consortium who are asking CalPERS this week to put off what appears to be an inevitable vote to slash their pensions.

The consortium, also known as LA Works, folded in 2014 and stopped contributing to the retirement fund. The four cities that banded together in 1979 to create LA Works also are refusing to pick up the tab, setting up a vote at CalPERS Wednesday morning to cut benefits for its former employees by as much as 63 percent.

The former LA Works employees submitted letters to the board this week asking for more time or a different outcome. They’re filled with details suggesting that some worry they’ll lose their houses if their incomes are cut.

Here are excerpts from appeals made by four people:

“I worked as office manager for (LA Works) for 27 years, retiring in 2006. During those 27 years, I was offered positions with two employers located much closer to my home, but which I turned down, mainly because of the excellent retirement benefits offered me by (LA Works) through CalPERS. If I had known that years later, after retirement, those benefits would be cut by more than half, my decision might have been different. At my age and my disabled husband’s age, employment is not feasible.”

Sharon Plaster

“My name is Maureen K. Lynch, a single mother of a now-grown son, and I’m writing in reference to the Jan. 9, 2017 letter I received informing me that my CalPERS retirement may be subject to a reduction of up to 63 percent. The letter is the first time I’ve heard that such a reduction is pending, and although I am trying to make sense of the information as it becomes apparent, I find it quite incomprehensible.”

Maureen Lynch, 66

“I am living in fear of losing the income that is coming from CalPERS as that supplements my unemployment benefits and my credit cards that I am currently using to make ends meet. If I lose that, I will not be able to survive in my home and will end up losing it and up on the street. Although it isn’t much, that $500 is a lot to lose when you are barely making it.”

Alicia Garcia, 61

“How could a contract as important as the PERS retirement system be written with no protection for the very individuals who contributed to the account for so many years? I, like the other PERS members, do not understand how I/we can pay in all these years and be forced to take a 63 percent reduction. We were always told this was a lifetime retirement system,”

Shelly Laddusaw, 60, a 25-year LA Works employee

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