Pattye Benson

Community Matters


Nationwide Collective Bargaining Solidarity – Saturday, February 26

“Employers and employees alike have learned that in union there is strength, that a coordination of individual effort means an elimination of waste, a bettering of living conditions, and is in fact, the father of prosperity.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1929

For the past nine days, we have watched as teachers, students, nurses, state workers and others protested in Madison, Wisconsin. This week we understand that many of our own school district teachers showed their support for fellow teachers with the ‘wearing of red’. We now learn that this Saturday at noon, across the country, the protest and show of solidarity is going national. In cities from coast to coast, including every state capital, people will come together to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin.

Union leaders in Wisconsin agreed to Gov. Walker’s proposal to increase contributions to their health and retirement plans to help close a projected $3.6 billion budget gap. The move would cut the take-home pay of many union workers by about 7 percent. However, union leaders nationwide are incensed about Walker’s additional proposal to strip public employees of the collective bargaining power – the lifeblood of a union.

I received an email announcement from political action organization, about the ‘Rally to Save the American Dream’ offering details of Philadelphia’s planned solidarity rally at:

Love Park
Broad & JFK Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19101
Saturday, February 26
12 Noon

The invitation asked for us “. . . to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin and for all the people of Pennsylvania to stand up as well. It is time we all speak out and demand an end to the attacks on worker’s rights and public services across the country. We demand investment, to create decent jobs for the millions of people who desperately want to work. And we demand that the rich and powerful pay their fair share. We are all Wisconsin. We are all Americans. Please join me at the rally and bring a friend!”

The announcement further suggested that if you believe in the middle class and the American Dream, you fight for collective bargaining rights. Declaring your support for the Wisconsin workers, attendees on Saturday are asked to show up wearing the Wisconsin Badger colors: red and white.

From Clarence Darrow in 1909, the words “With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the development of character in men.”

I think we can all agree — these are historic times in our country.

The Calm Before the Storm . . . maybe the weatherman will be wrong!

By now, it would be impossible not to know of the dangerous winter storm headed our way. The Weather Channel is predicting that this storm will affect “100 million people . . . across 29 states”. A 2,100-mile long winter trail is expected to blanket the country from the plains to the East Coast; by many accounts, a storm of epic proportions.

The weathercasters are using words like sleet, freezing rain, snow, rain, wintry mix to describe what is in store for the Philadelphia area residents tomorrow through Wednesday. We have a foot of snow on the ground and now more snow is predicted with an icy coating, predictably making our roads impassable.

Many of the roads from Philadelphia to Phoenixville remain snow and ice-covered from the previous storm of last week. Looking at the news, there are numerous side streets in the region that are still dangerous and impassable. For instance in the Mt. Airy neighborhood, major roads remain unplowed and untreated with salt. With several inches of ice attached to the asphalt under layers of snow, how are these residents ever going to dig out?

So . . . how has Tredyffrin fared with its snow removal? Over the last couple of days, I have driven around the township, visiting neighborhoods and business districts. All I can say is that Tredyffrin has set the gold standard for the Main Line when it comes to snow removal. On the eve of Mother Nature’s next winter storm, I want to take this opportunity to thank Steve Norcini, director of Public Works, and the men and women in his department for a job well done. Many residents in the Philadelphia area have good reason to complain about their lack of snow and ice removal, not so in Tredyffrin.

Here’s hoping that the weather predictions for the next few days are wrong. Fingers crossed our power stays on, the roads are salted and plowed, and with luck, the winter storm misses us completely!

Happy Mother’s Day . . . Did you know the celebration has roots in Philadelphia?

Happy Mother’s Day!

Did you know that the celebration of Mother’s Day in the US has roots tied to Philadelphia? A little history behind today’s special Mother’s Day. Early on, “Mother’s Day” in the United States was mostly marked by women’s peace groups. A common early activity was the meeting of groups of mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the American Civil War. There were several local celebrations in the 1870s and the 1880s, but none achieved resonance beyond the local level.

In 1886 Ann Jarvis created a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day” whose purpose was “to unite families that had been divided during the Civil War”, and she wanted to expand it into annual memorial for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the celebration became popular. Her daughter Anna Jarvis would continue her mother’s effort shortly later.

In its present form, Mother’s Day was established by Anna Marie Jarvis, following the death of her mother Ann Jarvis on May 9, 1905, with the help of a Philadelphia merchant called John Wanamaker. Legend has it, Anna Jarvis, who was named after her mother, knelt before her mother’s gravesite in 1905 and pledged to her mother she would continue to honor mothers everywhere and would help establish an official Mother’s Day to honor both living and deceased mothers.

A small service was held in May 12, 1907 in the Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia where Anna’s mother had been teaching Sunday school. Anna Jarvis passed out 500 white carnations at her mother’s church – one flower for each mother in the congregation — as they celebrated the second anniversary of her mother’s death. The white carnations were her mother’s favorite flower. But the first “official” service was in May 10, 1908 in the same church, accompanied by a larger ceremony in the Wanamaker Auditorium in the Wanamaker’s store on Philadelphia. She then campaigned to establish Mother’s Day as a U.S. national holiday, and later as an international holiday.

In discussing the importance of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis said, “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit. A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother, and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

The holiday was declared officially by the state of West Virginia in 1910, and the rest of states followed quickly. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation, declaring the first national Mother’s Day; a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.

Philadelphia's 'Retire-for-a-Day' Pension Perk!

How’s This for a Government Loophole?

Talk about perks of government . . . I can not believe this loophole in Philadelphia’s local government. Ever heard of Philadelphia’s DROP program – that is the Deferred Retirement Option Program. DROP is a pension program that does not distinguish between Philadelphia city workers and elected officials. This means that there is nothing legally wrong with Philadelphia City Council members enrolling in the retirement program.

Elected officials who are in DROP benefit more than regular city employees because they can be re-elected. When a city worker retires, he or she does not return. But when a city council member wins re-election, he or she can count this as officially retiring from the City. If enrolled in DROP an elected official can collect a bonus payment (worth four years of pension payments) and then return to work. Now the councilperson will earn a salary and still get monthly pension checks as if they were retired. Allowing elected officials to retire for-a-day, collect a big pension check, and get “re-hired” for another term belies common sense!

In 2008, Councilwoman Joan Krajewski did just that. This 75-yr. old took her $297,466 DROP payment, and was re-elected to her current term. Now others are considering the same move. Philadelphia’s City Council has 17 legislative seats and 7 may come up in the 2011 elections. Six of those councilpersons are enrolled in DROP. But guess what . . . based on Ms. Krajewski’s experience, I would bet some of those people are going to resign for a day, take their lump-sum payout and then be back on the job. One of the people who is currently ‘weighing her options’ is 78-yr. old City Council president Anna Verna She has not decided if she will seek re-election (but is keeping her options open!). Councilwoman Verna is set to get a $572,679 DROP payment!

The DROP program lets workers set up a retirement date up to four years in advance. At that point, their pension benefit is frozen and they start accruing pension payments in an interest-bearing account. Workers then receive those payments in a lump sum when they retire, and start collecting their annual pension. For disclosure purposes, if a councilperson retires, takes the lump-sum, and is re-elected, they cannot apply for DROP again, their pension benefits do not increase and they cannot starting their annual pension until they permanently leave office. (This would be the case for Councilwoman Krajewski, she received her DROP payment in 2008). But that is a small caveat – the elected official would have already made a bundle at that point!

What do you think of this Philadelphia government pension perk? Do we see any correlation between the DROP pension program in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) teacher’s pension program?

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