OUR FIGHT TO GET WALL STREET HEDGE FUNDS’ HANDS OFF PENSIONS CONTINUES

For years, the Labor Representatives on the State Investment Council have been outnumbered by the Governor’s appointees. That has been by design. Under that rigged system, a greater and greater percentage of our pensions have been invested in “alternative” investments costing hundreds of millions of dollars in fees to Wall Street, and we have not been able to direct how our funds are invested .

This year, however, because some of the Governor’s appointees resigned and with Senate and Assembly support for labor representation on the SIC, for the first time, Labor has a majority on the Commission.

At the May meeting, the CWA and AFL-CIO representatives tried to pass a motion to reduce the pension funds invested in hedge funds to no more than 4% of the pension portfolio, from 12.5%. This would save the pension plan hundreds of millions of dollars in fees. Not only that, hedge funds have performed extremely poorly for several years, and other pension plans including California, New York, Illinois, and Nevada have divested from hedge funds, and highly respected investors have recommended getting out of hedge funds. These investors include people like Warren Buffett and Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive.

In advance of discussing a full investment plan for next fiscal year, Adam Liebtag, President of CWA Local 1036 made the motion to cut back on hedge funds by 70% and set a hard limit. Tom Bruno, the Chair of the PERS Board seconded.  Adam spoke about hedge fund underperformance, high fees, and reasons to bring more investments “in-house next year. Tom spoke on behalf of PERS pensioners who have made every contribution on time and do not want our contributions invested with hedge fund managers. Eric Richard, the representative from the New Jersey AFL-CIO cited half a dozen experts warning against hedge funds.  Other representatives from AFT, PBA, and Firefighters spoke in favor of the motion. The Christie side of the committee became nearly apoplectic, warning of disastrous consequences and even in one case threatening to resign.  (To which the union member audience applauded.)  We had the votes. 8 union and Legislative representatives to 6 Christie representatives.

But when the vote came, the representative from the State Troopers Union, an employee of the Department of Treasury who reports to the same person that the Director of the SIC reports to, voted with the Christie Representatives against the rest of Labor. Instead of an 8 – 6 vote, or a 7 – 6 vote if he abstained as we expected him to, it was a 7 to 7 vote.

Our motion deadlocked. But we are not giving up.  This means we dig in and fight harder in the next weeks to adopt a different investment plan that will cut back on hedge funds. We will not allow the pension to continue to be ripped off by Wall Street fees.  There will be another meeting  in the coming weeks, and we are going back. We will keep you updated as to when that meeting is.  

We also will continue our campaign to change the Constitution and make the state pay its full pension contributions. We expect action in the Legislature to adopt the necessary resolutions in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and stay active!

In Solidarity,
Hetty Rosenstein
CWA NJ Director