Faculty accommodating to changed retirement plan

By: Analia Fiestas/Staff Writer

What one man considers a contribution, another considers a pay cut.

A new regulation, which Gov. Rick Scott proposed earlier in 2011 and went into effect in July, requires all state employees to put three percent of their salaries toward retirement.

“A three percent contribution to our pension… we respond to that as a three percent cut in our benefits package,” said Thomas Breslin, chairman of the Faculty Senate, who represents the faculty on the Board of Trustees.

The state of Florida will save $68 million a year with the new law. All state employees’ retirement benefit will be calculated based on an average final compensation over the last years of employment, instead of the last five years.

State employees did not contribute whatsoever to their retirement plans prior to July. As a result, Democrats, unions and teacher groups see the three percent requirement as a pay cut.

However, Scott said it puts public and private employees on the same playing field.

“It is unfair for public sector employees to have a guarantee that the private sector does not,” Scott said.

Staff and faculty around the University are already feeling the bitter changes. One of them is Victor Uribe, associate professor of history.

According to Uribe, if a professor makes $50,000 annually, he or she will have to pay $1,500 annually towards retirement—and the higher the salary gets, the more money employees will need to give away.

“With $1,500 I can pay gasoline for more than a year, buy groceries for three months or pay 10 electric bills. This is, alternatively, money I do not have to pay for clothes for my three children, or tutoring after school, or school supplies. In my case, any money taken away from my pay is money I cannot spend in the education of my children, home supplies, food, entertainment, culture, etc.,” said Uribe.

Uribe also believes one of the negative effects of the new bill is that professors and others have to change their lifestyle for the worse—refraining from going out to the movies, eating out or purchasing extra books.

“Our salaries are shrinking as we speak. This is because gasoline costs more, universities charge higher tuition, and groceries are not getting any cheaper. Notice the cheaper lunch available today, at FIU for example, is not $3.50 as it used to be back a few years ago—it is twice as much,” he added.

Math Professor Michelle Beer, also believes the new bill is completely ridiculous. She believes that all those affected will suffer greatly, for the bad economy itself has already negatively affected many public employees.

Some University students are also not happy with the new bill.

“I’m against it because I don’t think it’s up to the state to decide. You should decide what you want to do with your paycheck—not the state,” said Tremaine Steed, senior nursing major.

Steed added that employees have a budget based on their paychecks, and that the three percent cut may interfere with that budget, causing economic difficulties.

Because of that, it should be up to each employee to decide whether they accept the three percent deduction or not.

While Steed is against the bill, Ivan Garcia believes the bill is good for state employees.

“I think it’s a benefit for the teachers… at least they’re going to have that money in the bank whenever they retire. They may not see it as a benefit now but in the future they will,” said Ivan Garcia, freshman criminal science major.

“It’s very misleading. Basically, a pension is compensation,” Breslin said. “What the state is really doing with our pension is a reimbursement. The state will hold an amount from our salary and give it to us at a later date. It’s a shell game.”

Regardless, Breslin is concerned for the future of all state employees.

“I don’t know whether or not this is something that’s going to push employees to other places,” he said.

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