Posted on

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Bajan face behind NY union

Tony Best

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Bajan face behind NY union

Social Share

The six-foot-plus father could be easily mistaken in Ellerton or on Broad Street for an average “Bajan-Yankee” returning home to get away from New York’s bitingly cold winds.

But the man who grew up in St George became a small business owner in Brooklyn and eventually went to work repairing trains and buses operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is anything but “average.”

For one thing, he is the secretary-treasurer, the number two officer of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents at least 38 000 MTA employees who move millions of New Yorkers to and from work, school, church or the playground every day.

For another, he sits on the board of trustees of the New York City Employee Retirement System, NYCERS, which manages assets of US$137 billion and has fiduciary responsibility for the sustainability of at least US$40 billion in pension funds for city public sector retirees.

“Our board is responsible for the sustainability of the pension funds, which means that when the fund managers devise investment strategies we must carefully scrutinise, approve or, if necessary, reject their proposals,” said Earl Phillips, who owns property in Barbados and worries about the poor state of his birthplace’s economy.

“It is important that the investments of the pension funds bring in a healthy return so there isn’t any question about their long-term sustainability.

“That’s why we have to pay close attention to how the funds are invested domestically and internationally,” added the Barbadian, who came to the United States in 1987 but is quick to remind anyone that his “navel string” was buried in Barbados.

“The board approves and disapproves the investment strategy because that’s our fiduciary responsibility. The key thing is the sustainability of the fund. When our members retire there must be money there for the full duration of their retirement.”

In all, 11 trustees represent the city’s top elected officials – mayor, comptroller, public advocate and five borough presidents, as well as three influential unions, the TWU, District Council 37 and International brotherhood of Teamsters Local 237 – and Phillips believes Caribbean countries should be on the list of places where pension funds should be invested in viable commercial projects. Included among them should be Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and their neighbours.

 “If you look at the diversity of the city’s workforce, you would see that thousands of people from the Caribbean working in the police, fire and sanitation departments and they are paying into their pension funds,” he explained. “In all fairness, some of the money should be invested in the Caribbean.”

As Phillips sees it, if the pension fund investment strategies can involve putting money into Europe, Asia and the Middle East, then it stands to reason the Caribbean should be on the list.

But he was quick to insist on an important factor: the viability of the projects in which the investments go.

“The Caribbean nations and territories must put themselves in a position to produce a product that is profitable,” was the way he put. “The bottom line is that our money management can invest in the Caribbean but they can only do that if there is product which helps us to be sustainable. In other words, the Caribbean, must have viable projects that would appeal to money managers.” Tourism is one investment area.

At the recent 19th annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference in Nassau, where P.J. Patterson, a former Prime Minister of Jamaica, laid out a blueprint for the development of Caribbean Talent and Cultural Industries as an integral part of the region’s economic matrix and where Perry Christie, The Bahamas’ prime minister, insisted there was a need for the Caribbean and African Americans to develop closer bonds, Phillips said that pension fund investment in the Caribbean would make eminent financial sense.

He told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY later that “money managers in New York who advise NYCERS are the ones who “do all of the due diligence on companies around the world”, he said. “We have the hotel sector in the Caribbean, for instance. The hotel sector is part of tourism which is the economic lifeline of the region. It is a possible investment vehicle for the money managers.”

He was quick to cite the Caribbean-owned Sandals hotel chain with its properties in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua, Barbados and St Lucia as a potential candidate for investment.

“The Sandals chain does a lot for tourism across the Caribbean,” the senior union executive asserted. “The hotel chain is an example of what can be considered.”

Incidentally, the Caribbean Business Conference, which was organized by the New York Carib News was held at the Sandals resort in Nassau, and Phillips was a panellist in its opening business session that looked at the “pathway to success” through leadership.

Pension fund investment is not a grant or financial assistance. It is for profitable enterprises that are well managed, offer value for money and bring healthy returns – nothing less.