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Attacking Public Sector Pensions: What the West MI Policy Forum wants next

December 13, 2018

Last year, the West Michigan Policy Forum worked with state legislators and helped get legislation passed to undermine pensions for teachers in the public sector. Members of the West Michigan Policy Forum were able to do this by lobbying with their access to state lawmakers, since they have contributed significant amounts of money to their campaigns. 

Just as a refresher, the members of the West Michigan Policy Forum who have the most power to influence state policy are John Kennedy (Autocam Medical), Doug DeVos (Amway), Jim Dunlap (Huntington Bank), Matthew Haworth (Haworth Inc.), Jeff Connolly )Blue Cross/Blue Shield), Rick Baker (GR Chamber of Commerce), J.C. Huizenga ( National Heritage Academies), Mike VanGessel (Rockford Construction), Peter Secchia (SIBSCO) and Michael Jandernoa (42 North Patners). These are the guys who make up the Grand Rapids Power Structure, who have their names all over buildings, sit on the board of directors for several other influential entities and some of them have major foundation that fund all manner of far right stuff.

One of the policies they are focused on now and in the coming year, is to attack and undermine public sector worker pensions, specifically government workers.

At the September 2018 West Michigan Policy Forum Conference, the issue of targeting public sector employee pensions was discussed. Heading up this effort from the West Michigan Policy Forum is Michael Jandernoa, CEO of 42 North Partners, located in downtown Grand Rapids. Jandernoa knows a few things about buying access to politicians. In the past three elections cycles, Jandernoa has ranked in the top 15 individuals/families in Michigan to contribute to political committees. In the 2013-2014 election cycle, Jandernoa contributed $649,996, in the 2015-2016 cycle he contributed $827,500 and in the 2017-2018 cycle Jandernoa gave $592,000 (as of August 22).

Jandernoa was interviewed by Comcast about the West Michigan Policy Forum’s goal to undermine government employee pensions, an interview you can watch at this link.

This 5 minute interview is friendly and non-substantive, but Jandernoa says a few things that are worth noting, particularly how he framed the issue of government employee pensions. Jandernoa and the West Michigan Policy Forum want us all to believe that government employee pensions are “an unfunded mandate.” This is the language that Jandernoa uses in the brief interview. It is also instructive that Jandernoa keeps saying in the interview that he believes that government employees are entitled to their pensions, but that those pensions should not be paid by taxpayers.

Here is the thing. Government employee unions fought to get pensions and other benefits for government employees decades ago. Now the far right wants to implement more austerity measures against the public sector and one way is to not have government employee pensions paid for by the government. Instead, as Jandernoa states in the interview, the West Michigan Policy Forum now has a formula for how to get this done. What Jandernoa is referring to was the way they got Public Schools to no longer pay teacher pensions, which meant that pensions would now be part of a 401k policy that put it within the realm of speculative capital and subjected to the whims of the so-called free market.

We will continue to follow this issue closely by monitoring any state legislation that is proposed in Michigan to undermine the pensions of government employees. We will continue to monitor the West Michigan Policy Forum as well, since their members, like Michael Jandernoa, are part of the capitalist class, which ultimately benefits from such policies.

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