With a lot of states having issues regarding unfunded teachers pensions, I was wondering why it doesn't ever appear to be a main point of their lobbying/protesting/striking. Wouldn't it be in their best interest to push for getting it stabilized?

  • 2
    This is a false premise. Teachers unions definitely do lobby quite vigorously to pay off unfunded pension liabilities, although it often doesn't receive as prominent news coverage because actuarial estimates of pension funding requirements doesn't bleed and isn't as compelling emotionally as other issues.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 21:52
  • Could you send me any information on when this was a central point in a strike, or near strike negotiation? It seems like while I am sure it is something they say they want, it does not appear to be a point of true passion in these moments.
    – spmoose
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 22:08
  • @ohwilleke From my understanding, unfunded pensions are usually more of a grievance (which could be used as a negotiating tactic) rather than something on the bargaining table. "You're already behind on this, why should we believe you when you say you'll add more money to the fund? Do this other thing instead". But I'm no expert.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 0:09
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    I said "lobbying", which definitely happens a lot (I've seen it first hand). I don't recall it being a central issue is a strike although sometimes one of many issues raised in a platform of issues. Lobbying/protest/strike are three very different responses. See here re protests and walkouts: cpr.org/news/story/…
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 0:36
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    Example of a teacher's strike over pensions. arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2018/12/13/… Eight years of lobbying in NJ. pressdemocrat.com/news/9165462-181/…
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 0:45

1 Answer 1


If the pension is un/underfunded, that's not the union's problem.

The money that is supposed to be in the pension was generally decided on previously by negotiation between the union in the district. Once both sides have signed the contract, it is the district's responsibility to hold up their end of it. This includes paying any pension contributions it owes. How it goes about doing so is its own problem. Usually this involves setting up a fund to invest money to earn some income and smooth out payments/payouts, since future costs can be predicted, but it doesn't have to.

Since the district is contractually obligated to pay the teacher pensions, it doesn't matter whether the fund set aside for that purpose is sufficiently funded. It is obligated to make up the money from elsewhere if the fund doesn't have enough. Of course, there might not be enough money in the pool to do so, but that's another problem.

This flexibility is what enables a district to "raid" the pension fund to pay other obligations - it's just money set aside for teacher pensions, it's not theirs yet.

Thus, unions don't have any reason to spend any bargaining power trying to force their district to do what the district has to do/should have done already.

  • While I get that it isn’t their problem directly, wouldn’t the instability brought about by underfunding, like states talking about not being able to give them their full pension, indirectly make it their issue?
    – spmoose
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 18:20
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    The easiest solution would be for them to end their pension and that's not a position they want to take. The hard solution is for the district to raise taxes to pay for it which voters will get upset by. So both sides punt the problem to the next generation.
    – pboss3010
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 13:18

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