When it comes to honoring the hard work of America’s public employees, the entire month of May was a veritable commemoration of their service.

From International Firefighters Day to Emergency Medical Services week, May was host to a plethora of celebrations recognizing public servants. While we paused to appreciate the service of teachers, police officers, nurses and correctional officers, we were reminded of another way to express our gratitude: by protecting their hard-earned pensions.

Public employees often accept lower pay than their counterparts in the private sector in exchange for the security of a defined benefit pension. Pensions also function as a valuable tool for recruitment and retention – attracting the best and brightest to careers in public service and ensuring they stick around.

Unfortunately, the retirement security of public servants is routinely under attack by ideologues and Wall Street interests who see pensions as a pot of gold. In Michigan right now, Republicans are fighting to close the pension plan for teachers and public school employees, moving them instead to risky defined contribution 401(k)s. For two years in a row in Kansas, the Governor is refusing to repay money he ‘borrowed’ from the state pension fund to cover budget deficits of his own creation.

As the nation honored the dedication of EMTs, firefighters and public works employees last month, several public servants took it upon themselves to speak out in defense of their retirement security. In newspapers across the country, workers made their voices heard. Here are some of our favorite excerpts:

“I’m a retired teacher and taught for 21 years at Adrian Public Schools. Being a teacher isn’t easy work, but every morning I woke up, put on my shoes, and headed to the job I loved — preparing our children for their futures. Some days were easier than others, but I took pride in my career and I slept easily at night knowing that after my decades of service to my community, I could retire with dignity with my pension.”

Lawmakers are ill-advised to close off teacher pensions – it will be costly.
Pam Taylor, Retired Teacher, Michigan

“Teachers, firefighters, police officers and thousands of public workers are the backbone of America’s middle class because of our pensions and retirement security. In order to address the growing retirement crisis in America, I urge companies, our Legislature and other bodies to consider addressing the crisis by increasing defined benefit pensions.”

Firefighter: I can tell you pensions matter
Steve Pieper, Firefighter, Wisconsin

“Now more than ever, we need to discuss the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) — the system that provides correctional officers like me with a secure retirement. Kansas is in a major fiscal dilemma and we need to raise revenue or we’ll be in a position where KPERS will be unable to meet the promises made to correctional officers, teachers and other public employees. Without action, politicians are kicking the can down the road, and that could have a devastating effect on the fiscal stability of our state.”

KPERS needs to be funded
Michael B. Soza, Correctional Officer, Kansas

Public employees dedicate their careers to serving our communities. They deserve more than a week of recognition – they deserve the ability to retire with dignity and security. That means protecting their pensions.