The 2019 CORPaTH Crystal Globe Awards Banquet took off on Dec. 17 with high-powered honorees and other presenters calling for a renewed spirit of patriotism and commitment to working people who earn and deserve a secure retirement.
By the time the CORPaTH Summit concluded the next day, attendees were thoroughly briefed by authoritative speakers and panelists on a variety of fields relevant to CORPaTH’s mission, from sound investment practices and corporate governance to trust fund management and the current legislative landscape in Washington, D.C.
The action began right after Crystal Globe Awards audience members took their seats in the Roman Ballrooms of Caesars Palace Las Vegas, when Master of Ceremonies Jacques Loveall introduced pension investment legend James Meketa.
Meketa devoted his remarks to a stirring evocation of patriotism as it was expressed by his father and his Boy Scout troop leader, both of whom served on bomber crews during the Second World War. “Their definition of patriotism was really pretty simple,” he said. “They said patriotism is Americans taking care of other Americans. Patriotism is having your neighbor’s back.”
Following dinner, CORPaTH Executive Director Ron Auer presented CORPaTH’s Crystal Globe Awards to a trio of renowned Pension Defenders, including:
- Betty Yee, controller of the State of California and a board member of the nation’s two largest public pension funds, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS). She was introduced John Marco, senior vice president of Segal Marco Advisors, who said, “We need folks on the front line. We need folks like Betty Yee.”
- DeMaurice (“De”) Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association. Smith was honored in part for his ongoing efforts to improve the NFL’s Legacy Fund, which assists players who retired before the league established new standards for pension benefits in 1993. Accepting the Crystal Globe Award on his behalf was Miki Yaras-Davis, longtime negotiator for the NFLPA, who was introduced by NEPC partner — and key CORPaTH supporter — John Elliot.
- Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of America (LiUNA). O’Sullivan co-chairs the Laborers’ National Pension Fund and the Laborers’ National (Industrial) Pension Fund and is a board member and former CEO and president of the Union Labor Life Insurance Company (ULLICO). He was introduced by his lifetime friend and ally, Kelson Group partner Neal Wilkinson, the son of a past Laborers’ Union president who also served as a vice president of ULLICO Investment Advisors.
O’Sullivan brought his audience to its feet with a take-no-prisoners address blasting certain Washington politicians for proposing laws which would hurt pension plans. “If you bail out Wall Street, if you bail out the Big Three, if you bail out every [expletive] known to mankind and the banks, well then, when we have a problem, why don’t you bail our defined-benefit pension plans?” he said.
CORPaTH’s 2019 Summit opened the following morning with Hank Kim, executive director and counsel for the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS) leading a Trustees and Leadership Panel including Larry Brown, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE); Ron Silver, general counsel for the City of Miami General Employees’ and Sanitation Employees’ Retirement Trust as well as a former member of the Florida State Senate and House of Representatives; Kirk Vogt, secretary-treasurer of UFCW 8-Golden State as well as a trustee the UFCW-Northern California Employers Joint Pension Trust Fund; and California State Controller Betty Yee.
Christine Pishko of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) explained how investors have embraced incorporating environmental, social and governance (SEG) factors, as well as stewardship, into their decision-making process.
Matt Morrison, executive director of Working America, then spoke on the potential for developing retirement security as an issue commanding the attention of the public and political candidates. “Retirement security is probably the most important under-discussed issues when we look at the electoral map,” he said. “It has the power to create one of the largest changes to how people view the political landscape… If we increase the number of retirement-security voters, we all win.”
A Legislative Issues Panel moderated by CORPaTH Executive Director Ron Auer featured presentations by Jason L. Russell, senior vice president and actuary with Segal Consulting, and Dan Doonan, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security.
Russell discussed the prospects of legislative solutions to the pension crisis following Congress’ failure to find an agreement in 2019. Noting how the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation is quickly running out of money, he said, “we’re largely in the same situation we were in a year ago, except things have gotten a year closer to the point of doom.” He concluded: “As the debate continues and as we look for compromise, everyone should be strong on what matters in keeping the multiemployer system healthy, but also be creative in terms of how we might find compromise and be able to save the troubled plans without damaging the rest of the system.”
Doonan described NIRS’ Pensionomics research on public opinion concerning retirement issues and how personal savings plans are filling the gap left by the erosion of defined-benefit pension plans. Much of his discussion explained how pensions produce strong benefits not just for retirees but for the economy at large. “Americans still have a really strong favorable view of pensions,” he said. “What always scores high in our surveys is a monthly check for life.”
Thomas Croft, managing director of Heartland Capital Strategies (HCS) and executive director of the Steel Valley Authority, spoke about the Labor Capital Strategies Fellowship. The joint project of HCS and Georgetown University provides summertime opportunities for students from a variety of backgrounds to help communities create affordable housing, build wind and solar projects, engage in progressive shareholder campaigns, spur the growth of responsible business and good jobs, and help labor unions organize and obtain quality contracts. For more information, contact Croft here or visit the fellowship program’s website.
Finally, a Consultants Panel featured Tim McCusker, chief investment officer at NEPC, and John Marco, managing principal of Meketa Investment Group.
McKusker focused on the consequences of negative-yielding debt in many parts of the world, including Europe and Japan. While the United States continues to “pull Europe out of the ditch” and has positive interest rates, there is a “non-zero chance” the U.S. could follow other countries into negative interest territory in the future, he said.
Marco also addressed challenges confronting the investment community in the United States, where investors have been “holding off” due to ongoing trade wars, domestic instability and political interference in monetary policy.
At the conclusion of the 2019 CORPaTH Crystal Globe Awards Banquet and Summit, Director Auer invited all of the attendees to return for next year’s events, scheduled for Dec. 15 and 16, 2020 at Caesars Palace Las Vegas.