Memphis There’s the old saying about “sunshine on a rainy day,” and this must be the day for long time ACORN people to have a smile on their face, despite all of our continued mourning that ACORN in the United States pulled the plug almost two years ago.
The ACORN Beneficial Association (ABA) began some years ago (1989, nineteen years after ACORN’s founding!) to provide some kind of benefits for long time staff people in any of the ACORN family of organizations, whether employed by the unions, housing corporation, bookkeeping and central services operation or ACORN itself. In the beginning it was a pittance and almost an occasional contribution sometimes reaching 1% of gross payroll, speaking more to the principle and recognition of seniority and an expression of the leadership’s commitment to the contribution of the organizers and other staff to the overall success of the ACORN enterprise. For years we trickled along at that level between 1 and 2% as a discretionary fund of sorts more on a hope and a prayer and buoyed by our own youth and sense of indestructibility. As the years of seniority lengthened and many of the more senior organizers working for the organization got longer in the tooth, it became clear that we needed to “catch up” in order to provide something that was more substantial, even if not sufficient that could supplement the staff’s social security benefits when the time came. Starting about 1998 or around then, we converted the ABA to a formal ERISA-based multi-employer fund, and started ramping up the contributions. By the time I left as Chief Organizer in 2008, a total of 10% of gross payroll was being contributed to the ABA. Those payments didn’t continue much after I left, first as the organizations were hammered by financial pressures, and then when they were under full-scale assault after the O’Keefe-Giles housing counseling video slanders.
Nonetheless, the funds in the ABA had grown to more than $10,000,000 by the time I had left and continued to mature over the last four years. With the demise of the organization the remaining trustees essentially faced the music and decided just to distribute the money to the hundreds and hundreds of staff in the ACORN family of organizations that were vested. Given the disaster of the economy and the tragic end of ACORN in the United States, rumors of a distribution of the funds to all have sustained many hopes during this period. The ABA may have been intended for the staff’s senior years, but all retirement-type benefit programs are really income deferral and something like mandatory employer directed savings schemes after a fashion, so I understand completely why many of the old ACORN staff will simply cash in what they have coming even if we might have hoped they would be able to use the money at some point when they were older.
Either way, today is the promised day when the money goes from the ABA to each of the beneficiaries individual accounts of various types, so it’s a happy day for all of these and a big vote of thanks for hard and great work done over the years with ACORN or one of the family of organizations! For some of the people who I hired in the early 70’s who logged in 10, 20, and even 30 years working with me, these transfers are serious money in the six figures. A couple of my long time union organizers with Local 100 are looking at enough money to think about trying to buy houses for the first time, retire debts, and put aside savings. I’ve heard from organizers from all over in recent months about their own gratitude and plans, and it brings a smile to see a small deferred down payment of sorts being made for some many invaluable contributions to the collective enterprise of ACORN and the members and vision it served. These checks are for all of those that paid their dues in good times and bad – here’s to one and all with heartfelt thanks!
And, the arc of justice is long, so it is somehow fitting as well that the news is spewing out from the different perspectives of both right and left, that the judge has ruled categorically that former housing corporation workers with ACORN in California will be able to sue James O’Keefe and Hanna Giles for their illegal video and tape recordings and the damages it caused them. They may never have worked with us long enough to vest in the ABA, but I hope they have a huge payday coming in their future, thanks to the scammers and the terrible damage they have wrought!