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Facebook Pension Groups Are Doing Work Unions Should Be Doing To Protect Retirement Savings

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My experience this past year conducting a forensic investigation of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio on behalf of the 20,000 member-strong Ohio Retired Teachers Association has convinced me that Facebook groups can be a powerful force to combat looting of America’s pensions by Wall Street. In Ohio, two Facebook groups, Ohio STRS Members Only Forum (19,000 members) and the STRS Ohio Watchdogs (7,000 members) are vigilantly exposing gross mismanagement at the STRS Ohio pension identified in a forensic investigation I completed.

Long before U.S. intelligence agencies identified Facebook as a battlefield for information warfare and foreign interference in the 2016 election, the company was criticized for the harm it did including failing to stop the spread of extremism, hate speech, propaganda, disinformation, and conspiracy theories on its site. The 2012 post Top 10 Reasons Why Facebook Is The Devil includes alleging “it does nothing but incite envy, fake-ness, impulsivity, over-disclosure, jealousy, rage, picture-taking, hatred, loneliness and desperation.”

Last month Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic wrote, “In recent years, as Facebook’s mistakes have compounded and its reputation has tanked, it has become clear that negligence is only part of the problem. No one, not even Mark Zuckerberg, can control the product he made. I’ve come to realize that Facebook is not a media company. It’s a Doomsday Machine.”

I have written in Forbes about being suspiciously blocked by Facebook from posting my widely disseminated articles in pension group discussions for somehow “violating community standards.” How can an article about pensions suitable for publication by Forbes.com violate a pension group’s community standards? Requests for explanation or reconsideration have gone unanswered.

Most recently I exposed an apparently fake Facebook account that was attempting to discourage Ohio government workers from donating to a GoFundMe campaign to conduct a forensic investigation into potential mismanagement at the $100 billion-plus Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS).  The fake Facebook account has disappeared without explanation; the GoFundMe campaign for an OPERS investigation is ongoing.

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On the other hand, my experience this past year conducting a forensic investigation of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio on behalf of the 20,000 member-strong Ohio Retired Teachers Association has convinced me that Facebook groups can be a powerful force to combat looting of America’s pensions by Wall Street. In Ohio, two Facebook groups, Ohio STRS Members Only Forum (19,000 members) and the STRS Ohio Watchdogs (7,000 members) are vigilantly exposing gross mismanagement at STRS Ohio identified in a forensic investigation I completed.

It’s no secret that most of our nation’s remaining corporate and government defined benefit pension funds are grossly underfunded. Not surprising, the single greatest concern of pension participants today is whether the pensions they rely upon for their retirement security are prudently managed and if pensioners will receive all the benefits they have been supposedly promised.

While for over two decades I have implored unions to get actively involved in scrutinizing the management of pension investments—serving a watchdog function which pension boards are ill-equipped to perform—rarely have I been successful in persuading these unions that the best way to preserve pensions is to expose and address problems, not hide them. Unions tend to believe that any criticism of pensions will only lead sponsors to no longer offer them to workers.

According to Dean Dennis, who began working with others (including Joe Lupo, Bob Buerkley, Robin Rayfield, Kathie Bracy, John Curry, John Bos, Jan Stewart and Cindy Murphy) on the two Facebook groups in 2019, the effort began with petitions posted on Facebook. Petitions, such as STRS Ohio, It’s Our Money, Adopt A Reasonable Investment Return Assumption (7,000 signatures) and Respect Ohio’s Retired Teachers, Restore Their Promised COLA (46,000 signatures) incited teachers, as did speeches detailing problems within STRS Ohio. Outreach to media and informing members of a class action lawsuit against STRS Ohio alleging violations related to elimination of the promised Cost of Living Adjustment were also critical.

Dean Dennis says, “Traditional unions are supported by active teachers and focus on their issues. The problems at STRS are broader because they also effect retired teachers’ COLAs and the general public, including taxpayers. However, we are well-aware that active teachers are working longer and receiving less for their contributions. I would encourage teachers nationally who are concerned about their retirement security to take action on their own—like we did—and not rely upon unions to watch over their pensions.”