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We must counter the naysayers

New York Teacher

John Soldini receives the Tom Pappas Award from Chapter Leader Tom Murphy
Jonathan Fickies
RTC Vice President John Soldini (left), here receiving the Tom Pappas Award from Chapter Leader Tom Murphy at the Retired Teachers Chapter Luncheon in June, attended a regional conference during the summer in preparation for this year’s White House Conference on the Aging
A White House Conference on Aging has been held every decade since 1960 to identify and advance actions to improve the quality of life of older Americans. RTC Vice President John Soldini attended a regional conference held on July 13 in preparation for this year’s conference. I have asked him to write about that meeting in this month’s column.

— Tom Murphy, chapter leader

Last spring, I represented our Retired Teachers Chapter and the American Federation of Teachers in Boston at the White House’s Northeastern Regional Conference Meeting on Aging.

The panels’ initial discussions presented what has been accomplished and what still needs to be accomplished in order to properly meet and provide support for the nutritional, emotional and physical needs of the elderly.

I anticipated the conference would consist of like-minded senior advocates presenting their major priorities concerning aging to the White House. However, once we disbursed into focus groups it became apparent that our seeming homogeneity masked a number of significant differences.

One such difference was the attitude toward the future existence of defined benefit pension programs like ours. Instead of demanding their expansion, a number of speakers relegated defined benefit pensions to the graveyard of history. Their attitude was that while they were good, they are gone now so let’s move on.

Another significant difference concerned the question of what strategy we should employ to protect the fiscal soundness of the Social Security system and the future of social benefit programs. Rather than proposing a number of acceptable methods such as raising the cap on mandatory contributions, many participants immediately called for raising the age for eligibility to receive Social Security benefits as the preferred solution.

Those differences coincided with the dichotomy that arose over choosing what the major future focus of the White House should be toward the elderly.

A majority said the focus should be on enacting laws and using the White House as a bully pulpit to ensure that the elderly would be able to live out their remaining years in dignity by continuing to work as well as to contribute their ideas in other ways. Many strongly felt that, while they still had a great deal to offer to America, they have been cast aside and ignored, that they had become the flotsam and jetsam of American society.

Others, myself included, argued that the best way to preserve our dignity was to place the major focus on the protection and expansion of American social benefit programs, especially Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which are celebrating their 50th anniversary and which have been under such constant and unjustified attacks.

Their concerns made me realize just how fortunate we are that we had such leaders as Al Shanker, among others, who possessed the foresight to enable retirees to maintain active membership in the UFT after their retirement. That decision not only has strengthened the UFT but it has allowed retirees to maintain their dignity by creating a vehicle that enables them to continue contributing their services.

As I remarked at this year’s Annual Retiree Luncheon, while I appreciate and thank the UFT for making such a wise and generous decision, the real thanks should be given to those of you who have and continue to take advantage of the opportunity provided by that decision. The UFT gave you the opportunity to continue to contribute but it is you who seized that opportunity and have transformed the Retired Teachers Chapter into what UFT President Michael Mulgrew refers to as “the daytime union.”

You realize we need to counter the naysayers who, in their greed and benightedness, would transform America into what would tend to resemble a third-world nation by dismantling our social benefit programs and severely crippling public education.

It is absolutely necessary to reverse the trend that is shrinking the American middle class. We realize that if the naysayers succeed, America will no longer be the land of opportunity and freedom we all cherish.