Protect Our Benefits, Inc.

Many people ask, “Just what is Protect Our Benefits, Inc. (POB), and what do its members stand for?” Years ago, our organization was formed by a group of motivated San Francisco retirees, widows/widowers, and disabled retired employees who were ready to fight against a movement that was threatening their pensions and benefits. Many of their goals were similar to those defined in our mission statement: “…to provide CCSF retirees educational information on issues affecting their retirement benefits, principally by acquiring knowledge and then educating its members, as well as public policy makers, on issues concerning both such as current and proposed or pending legislative, administrative or judicial actions that could impact earned benefits.

Today, we embrace the goals and standards of our first activists. Our pensions and benefits are constantly under attack. Unfortunately, politicians and individuals with personal financial and political agendas have tried to spin the truth about how our benefits originated, who contributes to their costs, and if their costs adversely affect the budgets of our City and County. We strive to share the truth with the public about how our pension system works, where our benefits come from (the voters of CCSF through the Charter), the fiscal stability of both our Retirement and Health Systems, and that a pension is really a deferred compensation for work performed. We fiercely advocate fiduciary responsibility among the SFERS Board, Directors, and Trustees.

We are watchdogs who attend public meetings to monitor and report back to our group of retirees what board members are discussing and how to deal with upcoming issues that can affect our benefits. We meet with CCSF Supervisors to explain our positions and attend Retirement and Health Board Meetings. Recently, we employed a labor attorney to fight for the rights of our retirees. We are still engaged in a legal battle with the CCSF, fighting to make our most senior retirees whole again.

POB is a nonprofit corporation. None of our members are paid or compensated in any way. We depend on the generous contributions of our retired supporters to fund our operating costs and legal battles. Any San Francisco retiree may attend our meetings. We welcome CCSF retirees to come and observe our meetings and join us to fight for fairness for all retirees.

POB is using social media and the web to get our message out to more than 35,000 retirees, widows and widowers of retirees, disabled retirees, and followers. We utilize our Facebook page and website to explain our positions, provide up-to-date information concerning retiree issues, collect donations, and share informational articles for public distribution. On Facebook, we engage people from all over the world who have questions about our goals and purposes. We explain how we deal with entities who are attacking our benefits. We post articles from POB directors and reports from our attorney regarding legal issues. We invite everyone to check out and follow our page!

POB’s Historical Highlights

25 Years of Helping Retirees

POB began in 1998 when a number of CCSF retirees got together for a meeting at Nancy Gin’s home. (Nancy was Chair of the committee.) The purpose of this meeting was to organize a political action committee in order to be a political force at City Hall. John Lehane, Tony Sacco, Gail Wright, and Jean Thomas were present. They conferred with campaign consultant, Tony Fazio, and Dee Hermann, retired City Attorney, for guidance. Their initial meetings were held at the Taraval Police Station meeting room and then moved to Gail Wright’s basement. Barney Crotty, Gerald DeRyan, Tim O’Brien, Leo Martinez, and John Madden were some of the original members.

Our current Measure A for 2022’s November ballot is to restore pre-1996ers Retiree Supplemental Cost of Living and amend the charter to eliminate the full-funding requirement for members who retired before November 6, 1996 (and their qualified survivors and beneficiaries).

It also amends San Francisco Employee Retirement Systems board members’ authority to have an executive director contract, since the charter currently states that the Retirement Board does not have the authority to enter into an individual contract with the Executive Director. This also eliminates two current positions.

Proposition C in the November 2004 election amended the Charter to make the Health Service System an independent department and restored authority to the Health Service System Board to elect an executive director answerable to the Board. It also changed the makeup of the Health Service Board to be comprised of four elected members and three appointed members. The makeup of the Board was changed again when Prop C passed in 2011. The Health Service Board is now comprised of four appointed members and three elected members.

Proposition B in the March 2002 election amended the Charter to make any Supplemental COLA increase permanent. In any year when there is not enough money to increase the COLA, the retirement benefit would continue to be calculated based on past increases to the Supplemental COLA.

POB held a car raffle in October 2001 to retire the debt incurred for the Proposition E campaign. Proceeds from the raffle totaled over $100,000.

Proposition E in the November 2000 election amended the Charter to increase the contributions made by the City for health coverage to retired employees and their surviving spouses/domestic partners. This measure required the employer to pay half of what each employee paid the Health Service System for health coverage. It also required the employer to pay half of what a retired employee paid the system for health coverage for one dependent.

From 2019 through 2022, POB’s board members solicited and advocated with board members regarding retirees and their benefits. It took several years to get the full Board’s support, due to COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns. On July 22, 2022 all board members voted to put it on the ballot for November 8th, 2022.

In 2016, POB’s volunteer leadership and many post and pre-1996 retirees strongly advocated that SFERS needed counsel to interpret the Charter. On the advice of independent counsel, the Trustees voted to pay pre-1996ers the Supplemental COLA. Beginning with 15 members attending the first meeting to over 100 attending the final meeting, a wide range of speakers demonstrating the number of pre-1996 retirees being left behind convinced the Board of its legal authority to pay out the Supplemental COLA and to act on that authority. The creativity of various POB volunteers, from public signs to dropping 6,000 screws into a tin wash bin to demonstrate the sound of silent voices who earned and deserve the Supplemental COLA, was appreciated by all.

The City and County of San Francisco then sued the San Francisco Employees Retirement System (SFERS) Board to prevent the SFERS Board from paying the pre-1996 retirees. Protect Our Benefits asked for permission to intervene as Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court). Our brief was subsequently filed with the Court. CCSF won the suit.

On May 10, 2019 the appellate court released their ruling agreeing with CCSF that the Board did not have the authority under the charter to exempt the pre-1996ers retirees from the ‘full funding” required in order to pay the supplemental COLA.

On May 10, 2019 the appellate court released their ruling agreeing with CCSF that the Board did not have the authority under the charter to exempt the pre-1996ers retirees from the ‘full funding” required in order to pay the supplemental COLA.

On May 10, 2019 the appellate court released their ruling agreeing with CCSF that the Board did not have the authority under the charter to exempt the pre-1996ers retirees from the “full funding” required in order to pay the supplemental COLA. POB then decided to go to the voters of San Francisco to get a ballot initiative approved to change the Charter section to get the pre-1996ers’ SCOLÀ paid.

POB board members attend SFERS and Health Service System board meetings to advocate and educate those bodies with the retirees’ concerns and questions regarding their benefits.

The Plan began in the 1880s for public safety positions, and general positions were added in the early 1900s. This continues to be one of the best plans in the US because San Francisco’s voters are committed to funding it, and the City and County of San Francisco are committed to paying employees’ benefits every year. The SFERS Plan was approved by voters in 1920 and state legislature in 1921. As of 2017, SFERS serves more than 70,900 active, vested, and retired employees of the City and County of San Francisco.

SFERS Trustees, fiduciaries to the Plan members and beneficiaries, the Retirement Board, Retirement System staff, and our investment consultants continuously monitor the Plan’s investment strategies, which comply with a “prudent expert” standard to secure and maintain the sustainability of the Plan.

In FY 2016-17, the Plan ranked in the 22nd percentile versus other pension peers, and in the past three and five years the Plan has ranked in the top 3% and 6%, respectively. Over the past ten years, the returns rank in the 20th percentile of pension systems.

For the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2017, the SFERS Plan returned 13.81%. Comparatively, the median public pension with $1 billion or more in assets returned 12.66%. Over the past four years, the Plan investments returned 6.19% annualized, while they have gained 9.98% per year over the past five years. In the past ten years, the Plan’s portfolio has returned 5.40%, while over the past twenty years it has gained 7.46%, both annualized.

As the financial markets become more complex and the pace of technology and innovation accelerates, the Retirement Board and investment staff have implemented a series of initiatives, including the following:

  • Reduced our allocation to long-only public equity, to increase diversification and reduce the potential for a large loss
  • Reduced our allocation to bonds, due to low yields and low expected future returns
  • Increased our allocation to private equity, to increase our expected returns
  • Increased our allocation to real assets, to further broaden diversification
  • Initiated an allocation to absolute return, to further diversify plan assets, reduce the potential for a large loss, and increase the Plan’s risk-adjusted returns
  • Designed and implemented a differentiated investment strategy for each asset class, with an objective to increase portfolio returns
  • Implemented a comprehensive analytics platform, to better evaluate our portfolio exposures and risks, liquidity, and attribution of returns, as well as conduct more comprehensive historical, what-if, and scenario-based modeling

The overall objective of these initiatives is to maximize total plan returns while prudently taking investment risk.

Most of the pension plans that are problematic and have so much media attention do not have the same standards or type of governance board that the SFERS Plan has. Unlike many plans across the US, local elected officials cannot make any changes to the SFERS Plan. Only the voters of San Francisco have made changes to the SFERS Plan since it was first created over 98 years ago.

Participate with Protect Our Benefits

If you are a retiree of the City and County of San Francisco and would like to participate with Protect Our Benefits, please e-mail us at Participate@protectourbenefits.org. Be sure to let us know where you reside and what you are interested in doing. Since POB is an all-volunteer group, please allow a few days for us to respond.