September 26, 2008

Pension Beneficiaries Revolt, Call on IL & PA Fund Trustees to Stop Gambling With Retirement Assets

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pension fund beneficiaries called on the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) and Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) boards of trustees to take their fiduciary responsibilities more seriously and protect retirement assets from bad investments inside their monthly meetings today. Specifically, they are concerned about IMRF and PSERS involvement with a Lazard-affiliated private equity fund that has lost millions of pension dollars.

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Pension fund beneficiaries from both pension funds joined with other activists to speak inside the meetings in Oak Brook, Ill. and Harrisburg, Penn., while picketers circle outside.

"Atria and Lazard are a gamble we can't afford," said Anthony Ottobre, a PSERS beneficiary and retired school employee who spoke to the meeting. "PSERS is losing millions of dollars on this investment. They need to do their job and protect our pension money by holding these companies accountable for fixing their problems." Ottobre formerly served as President of SEIU Local 1201 which counts 4,000 PSERS participants among its members.

"I worked hard, driving a bus for 37 years. I'm outraged that PSERS is losing my hard-earned pension money. PSERS - you need to hold Lazard accountable and fix the problems at Atria!" said Jerry Wright, a retired transportation worker living in Philadelphia.

IMRF and PSERS are just two of several pension funds in the United States, Canada and Europe invested with this Lazard-affiliated private equity fund, the "Lazard Freres Strategic Realty Investors Fund II," which has consistently underperformed and lost millions since its inception in 1998.

Today's is just the latest in a string of actions challenging pension fund investors in the Lazard-affiliated private equity fund which owns Atria Senior Living, one of the largest senior living chains in the United States.

"Atria and Lazard have mismanaged this investment," said Jojo Adeyemi at the IMRF meeting. Adeyemi was fired after actively supporting a union with his Atria co-workers. "They are providing inadequate care to elderly residents and intimidating workers. It's time for these pension funds to live up to their responsibilities and we're going to be challenging them until they do the right thing."

AFSCME District Council 38 echoed that sentiment in a letter sent to IMRF staff and trustees on behalf of its 25,000 members with a retirement stake in IMRF. According to the letter, "IMRF [should] exercise their fiduciary responsibility and strongly encourage Lazard to pursue a partnership that will protect IMRF's investment."

Activists say they will even take their efforts international since two of the leading investors in the "Atria fund" are Canada's Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec (CDP) and the Dutch pension fund, PGGM, based in Amsterdam. Unlike many U.S.-based funds, these two international funds have signed the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, committing the funds to "considering environmental, social and corporate governance issues that can affect the performance of investment portfolios."(I) As signatories to these UN principles, CDP and PGGM should be at the forefront of holding Lazard accountable to fix the problems at Atria.

Atria Senior Living has become the target of increasing scrutiny by state regulators and elected leaders for problems ranging from short-staffing and poor quality care to consumer price-gouging. Numerous federal charges have been filed against the company for threatening, intimidating, harassing, and retaliating against workers for trying to form a union.

Here is a partial list of pension funds and others invested in Lazard-affiliated Atria Senior Living:

   La Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec (Quebec, Canada)   PGGM (The Netherlands)   N.Y. State Retirement Fund ("New York Common")   Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF)   Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS)   Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association (COPERA)   State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB)   Utah Retirement System   Virginia Retirement System   General Motors Asset Management   Government of Singapore Investment Corp.    More at   

The Campaign to Improve Assisted Living is an SEIU Healthcare campaign that unites assisted living caregivers with residents, family members, and senior advocates to stand for quality services for seniors and a voice on the job for caregivers. More than1 million healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and in-home care have united in SEIU Healthcare for quality care and quality jobs.

(I)The United Nations Principles:; and the signatory list:


Campaign to Improve Assisted Living

CONTACT: Jennifer Kelly of Service Employees International Union,+1-213-401-3321, [email protected]

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