Friday, 13 April 2007
The Retirement Dilemma
Thoughts on WCG's responsibilities to its former employees from Byker Bob, posted on the alumni forum, with followup comments by an ex-employee.
Next time you receive your annual statement from the Social Security Administration, assuming you ever worked for the Worldwide Church of God, or Ambassador College, take a look at all of the zeroes in the columns referring to taxed Social Security earnings, and taxed Medicare earnings. Now, picture yourself as one who worked for our favorite two institutions for the bulk of your career. What benefits are you scheduled to receive upon attaining the age of 66?
Here's the scenario. You worked for some organizations which were operating under the strange delusion (some called it prophecy that was revealed to God's Apostle, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong) that the world was going to end, and Jesus Christ was going to return long before you ever reached the age of retirement. Giving your money to the government, when it could have been given to "the work" was seen as not exercising good stewardship, so the decision was made by senior management of WCG/AC to opt out of the Social Security program, which was their perfect right as a non-profit religious organization.
This has been one of the most far reaching and influential decisions made on your behalf by the church and college. Now that we know that HWA was simply another false prophet, we can see that it would have been far wiser to hold back a little, and to save for retirement, but imagine the reaction of your local pastor if you had even suggested doing this back then! You would have been seen as lacking faith at the very least, or might even have been compared to Annanias and Saphira!
It doesn't matter what we might think of the people who are without retirement at this point in time, because the policy was equally unfair to everyone. Maybe you feel that the ministers who left the church are going to the Lake of Fire anyway, so what does it matter if they get retirement? Or, you might fall on the other side of the fence and assume that all ministers were our Nazi torturers, and regardless as to whether they have repented of their evil WCG roles, still deserve to suffer. But, what about long-term employees who opted to stay with the main body of WCG, and were fired for continuing to keep the sabbath privately in their own homes? What about the people who always tried to do the right thing, but got caught up in some of the final reductions in the church and college's work force as it all wound down prior to the sale of the campusses?
The problem is that opting out of the Social Security system was bad policy, and this bad policy is now affecting some of the people you might agree with, and some of the people you might vehemently disagree with.
What should be done? Some of the splinters have remedied this for the ministers who joined up with them, by providing continuing employment. But what of those whose consciences simply would not allow them to pursue such a course? What about the ministers who, in their 50's, suddenly found themselves beginning new careers and are only now accruing SS and Medicare benefits?
The WCG has continued to exist, uninterrupted from the time of these egregious policies, right up through the present. They may have changed their core beliefs, but the entity which originally caused the present hardships still exists, and IMO, should accept the responsibility of taking care of the people who were hurt by the original policies. Looking at this topic in a rational manner, it might even benefit the current WCG. How so? Well, if many of the aging ministers were taken care of financially, they wouldn't be selling out and continuing to teach Armstrongism just so that they could perpetuate their lifestyle! So there would be fewer leaders in the splinters, and fewer ministers would translate into accelerating the demise of a horrible false religious system.
I think we need to be making some noise about this before some of the people we knew and numbered as our friends are relegated to eating dogfood. Little Joe needs to exercise some leadership and to do the right thing for people who gave their all and are now about to pay the price for their dedication in ways they never imagined. Retirement benefits are not a paddle to be used in manipulating peoples' behavior, they are a form of basic human decency accorded to those who are too aged to be able to support themselves.
Response from a former employee:
WCG has always had a pick and choose mentality as to who got retirement care. Many who were in HWA's favor got retirement, homes and cars. But if you disagreed with him you got nothing. WCG carried on that tradition. WCG had a way of getting around full retirement for all employees. They called it 'discretionary assistance'. They made the decision to base your 'care' upon whether you were a full tithe payer and supported the church.
When the blow up happened those that went with the splinters automatically lost any 'discretionary assistance'. It did not matter who they were or what their health conditions were. The money was cut off with nothing more than a form letter.
WCG made numerous promises about retirement care when they started the process of selling the properties. They made big promises when they sold Big Sandy. They reneged on all of them. They made promises when they sold the jets. Again, they reneged. Then as the sale of the Pasadena property dragged on they started cutting the payments to those loyal employees that stood by them through all the changes. Many of them had serious health issues. It did not matter. The money was cut.
Only those employees around at the end of the sale process got retirement. If you worked for the church 30 or more years you got 60% of your income. Each year less you were there, you lost 5%. These employees can never have that retirement taken away from them, that money is locked into a special retirement fund run by an outside administrator. But sadly, WCG again failed to keep more of their promises. There were many who were told they would be brought back into the program or have their funds increased. Again, it never happened.
In the early 80's WCG gave employees the opportunity to opt back into Social Security. Many jumped at the chance, Most ministers and some employees did not. Now they are left high and dry by WCG. They also began offering the opportunity to join in 403b deductions for retirement in the late 80's. But to show how sneaky WCG really was concerning retirement, there were many teachers who had been for decades payed into a retirement fund for teachers of schools and colleges. 95% of the employees and many of the ministers were never told about this opportunity. Only a select few paid into it.