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Workers need to watch their pension plans closely

It is my view that our government has tunnel vision in determining what is best in retirement for most American workers. It has not created enough transparency in the publicly owned corporations that it has American workers investing their retirement monies into.

Our judicial, legislative and executive branches have allowed the American workers' benefits in the private sector to erode and evaporate. They have done this while government workers still enjoy, at taxpayer expense, defined benefits -- lucrative pensions with cost-of-living adjustments, health care and in many cases full retirement at age 55.

Private-sector corporations have been allowed to do away with the same workers' benefits under the assertion they are being replaced with less expensive and supposedly more enhanced retirement vehicles. Basically, the American worker is being told to source his or her retirement out of one trough while our political guardians source their own enhanced trough.

As has happened to millions of Americans, in 1997, at age 57, my pension was frozen. With no recourse, I, like many others, was forced to invest heavily in my 401(k) and individual retirement account. Then in 2001, at 63, my job was eliminated. For all intents and purposes I was forced to retire. The tech bubble, stock option back-dating, corporate scandals and mutual fund market timing cut deeply into my 401(k) and IRAs.

What happened to the billions of dollars in fines these criminal acts generated? That money ended up in government coffers, not in the workers' 401(k) accounts, which absorbed the losses. Like a herd of cows, U.S. workers have been led into fields of 401(k)s, IRAs or similar investment vehicles where corporate executives and financial institutions can milk them at their leisure, while Big Brother gets his taxes.

Trillions upon trillions of 401(k) and IRA dollars are being invested in mutual funds by millions and millions of American workers, and they have not one single say in executive pay, stock options, bonuses, golden parachutes, etc. Most shocking, performance has very little to do with these rewards.

It's like the wolves are guarding the fields where the American workers' monies are! They would have you think the rules can't or shouldn't be changed. Nonsense! Unfortunately, apathy by the American worker probably plays the biggest role in allowing this to happen. If we sit on our hands, nothing will change. Get more involved and educated with your retirement accounts.

Write the Securities and Exchange Commission (I filed a complaint), write your financial institution and demand that you be allowed to vote on your retirement dollars. Demand more transparency. Write your elected officials and ask why government workers still have their costly defined benefits at taxpayer expense? Would there be changes if our political leaders relied on 401(k) or IRA accounts, as most Americans do? When there is action, there is reaction.

Charles McConnaughey lives in Depew.

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