Jackson Hospital union members speak out against state retirement changes

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Republican lawmakers wan to drive state employees away from the pension program and into an investment plan.

Health care workers at Miami’s Jackson Hospital are urging House lawmakers to halt changes to the state’s retirement program after the Senate approved an overhaul earlier this month.

The Senate voted on party lines to approve legislation from GOP Sen. Ray Rodrigues (SB 84) that would stop new employees from joining the state’s pension plan and direct them to the state’s existing investment plan instead.

Republicans say the shift is needed to help save the state money longterm. But Democrats and union members say the lack of a pension plan makes those jobs less appealing and could hurt hiring efforts.

A new survey passed around to more than 1,100 union members at South Florida’s Jackson Hospital shows those health care workers have similar concerns.

SEIU 1991 members were the target of the survey. More than 91% of respondents said the retirement plan was an “important” factor in deciding to work at Jackson Hospital.

When asked whether the GOP proposal would make them “less likely” to stay at Jackson or whether they would “absolutely stay,” more than 75% said they would be “less likely to stay at Jackson and would consider other employment.”

“Our members have spoken loudly: their longterm economic future is a major factor in why they choose to work at Jackson Hospital, said Martha Baker, a nurse and President of SEIU 1991. “Our community cannot afford a shortage of health care workers and Senate Bill 84 will reverberate through our hospital system creating a recruitment and retention problem.”

Florida’s pension program retains high marks when compared with other states. Though Florida faces $36 billion in unfunded actuarial liabilities, that’s still good enough to pay off pensions if 82% of state employees abruptly retired today.

Still, Rodrigues and Republicans are expressing concern about the longterm health of the system and argue the changes are warranted.

The House is in the process of weighing the Senate’s bill after it passed the upper chamber in early April. Baker’s organization is urging House lawmakers to stop the bill in its tracks before it reaches the Governor’s desk, especially in light of the difficulties and uncertainty health care workers have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is time for our state leaders to listen to the women and men who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic for more than a year,” Baker said.

“These health care heroes have saved lives and cared for the dying. We know legislators will be making tough decisions this year, we ask that they consider the tough decisions we have made on the frontlines every day for the past year and take into account what your nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals want. We urge lawmakers to VOTE NO on Senate Bill 84.”

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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