LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Public workers, retirees and their families joined together Sunday afternoon in Central Park looking toward an uncertain future, rallying for their pension plans waving signs reading "A Kentucky Pension is a Kentucky Promise."
"They promised us a pension plan. That's what we want. That's what we expect and we won't accept anything less," Sue Foster, one of the rally organizers, said. "It's not just a Jefferson County problem. It's not just a JCPS problem or a metro government problem. This is a state problem."
Kentucky's pension system is considered one of the worst-funded systems in the country. The Kentucky Retirement System said the primary state pension fund it operates has less than 14 percent of the funds needed for the coming years.
"We would like to be able to retire after putting our time in and be able to have a decent retirement and we feel that we've earned that," Nicolai Jilek, a legislative agent with the Kentucky State FOP and a police officer, said. "We work hard."
Lawmakers have talked about developing a new pension fund package that many of these workers are looking to with a worried eye. An independent consultant hired by Governor Matt Bevin recommended sweeping changes to address the issues concerning the pension system and its large amount of unfunded liability, which could force most current and future employees into a 401k-style retirement plan, something the workers said is not acceptable to them.
"If future employees, that's all their offered in their retirement benefit is a 401k, then I'm really concerned about the recruitment and retention of good employees that are going to be providing those services for my family moving forward," Jilek said.
"That's a major part of the benefit package that draws you to the system," Foster, who also serves as the president of JCAESP-AFSCME Local 4011, which represents more than 4,000 JCPS workers, said. "I can tell you as a 24-year employee, that's the one thing that has kept me with this system."
"I'm not a villain," Beth Vachon, a retired elementary school teacher, said. "I have been promised these things and have made financial decisions based on that."
According to the workers, they've played by the rules by putting money from their paychecks into their pension plans. Now they want the government to uphold its end of the bargain. Some workers speculate there could be movement from the legislature regarding pension reform in the coming weeks, and they said they will be watching their elected officials closely as they try to fix the pension problem. Foster said the workers are ready to mobilize to go to Frankfort if and when Gov. Bevin calls for a special session to discuss pension reform.
"That's the bottom line," Foster said. "We go to Frankfort in November of 2017. We go to the polls in 2018."
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