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Pension committee must deliver on retirement promise

Pension committee must deliver on retirement promise
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Years of hard work by Teamsters, retirees and other unions to reform the faltering multiemployer pension system finally are paying off. Late last month, congressional leaders announced the members of a bipartisan congressional pension committee, tasked with finding a solution to the nation’s looming pension crisis by this November, and the panel met for the first time on Wednesday.

It’s not a moment too soon. There are about 1.5 million retirees in desperate need of quick action to save the retirement nest eggs they spent decades contributing to, on the premise they would be financial secure in their golden years. There also are hundreds of thousands of workers who are enrolled in these pension plans who deserve assistance, too.

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As it stands, there are about 200 multiemployer plans across the country — including the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund — that are in danger of failing. The House-Senate Joint Select Committee, chaired by pension reform advocate Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem victories in `18 will not calm party turbulence MORE (D-Ohio), needs to find a vehicle that will deliver for these hard-working Americans who are paying, or have paid, into the pension pool and have played by the rules all their lives.

 

Luckily, the panel’s 16 members don’t have to look far to find a vehicle that would fit the bill. This union supports the passage of the Butch Lewis Act of 2017 (H.R. 4444/S. 2147), which has gained bipartisan support since its introduction in Congress late last year by Sen. Brown and Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTrump makes new overtures to Democrats Key Democrat will ask for Trump tax returns if House flips Better health outcomes at lower costs is a win that everyone can get behind MORE (D-Mass.).

Republicans such as Reps. Peter King and Dan Donovan of New York, Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithElection Countdown: Midterm fight heats up over Kavanaugh | McConnell sees energized base | Dems look to women to retake House | How suburban voters could decide control of Congress | Taylor Swift backs Tennessee Dems | Poll shows Cruz up 5 in Texas Dem 2020 primary season is unofficially underway Trump's move on unethical fetal tissue experimentation isn't enough MORE, Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoHouse GOP group cuts financial support for Coffman, Bishop Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker On The Money: Broad coalition unites against Trump tariffs | Senate confirms new IRS chief | Median household income rose for third straight year in 2017 | Jamie Dimon's brief battle with Trump MORE, and Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurGOP Rep to top-ranking Dem who accused him of bigotry: 'Apologize to my children' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials move to require drug prices in TV ads | 4,000 more people lose Medicaid in Arkansas | New top official for Medicaid Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza MORE of New Jersey, Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickGroup begins 'Nuns on the Bus' tour to protest Trump tax law ahead of midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Historic vote on Kavanaugh to come amid protests, anger Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza MORE and Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloGOP lawmaker rips Trump for Stormy Daniels attack: This is 'unbecoming of any man' Trump goes on 12-tweet Twitter tirade Trump calls Stormy Daniels 'Horseface' MORE of Pennsylvania, and Kevin CramerKevin John CramerDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE of North Dakota and Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungAlaska lawmakers must get serious about Jones Act repeal How the Trump tax law passed: GOP adds sweeteners Election handicapper moves 10 races toward Dems MORE of Alaska understand the value of the bill and should be lauded for supporting this legislation. The measure would boost financially-troubled multiemployer pensions so they don’t fail. It would create an agency under the Treasury Department that would sell bonds in the open market to large investors such as financial firms.

The agency, the Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA), would then lend money from the sale of the bonds to the financially-troubled pension plans. Plans that are deemed “critical and declining,” as well as recently insolvent but non-terminated plans and those that have suspended benefits, would be eligible to apply for the program.   

Pension plans borrowing from PRA would be required to set aside the loan proceeds in separate, safe investments such as annuities or bonds that match the pension payments for retirees. For those plans needing additional help to meet retiree obligations, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation would be available to make up the difference. Those applying for loans to the PRA — which would be charged with approving all loans before they could be issued — would have to submit detailed financial projections. And, pension plans that have borrowed money would have to submit reports every three years to the PRA to show that the loans are working.

Last December, Teamsters were among the hundreds of union members who came to Capitol Hill to rally in support of the Butch Lewis Act. There, they joined Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (N.Y.), House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi heckled by Miami Republicans, Proud Boys at campaign event Pelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' MORE (Calif.), Sen. Brown, Rep. Neal and others to push for the legislation. Retirees were on hand to share their stories.

Mike Walden, a former truck driver and Teamster retiree from Akron, Ohio, recognized years ago that pensions such as the one he receives from the Central States were in dire straits. Now he is president of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions and chairman of the Northeast Ohio Committee to Protect Pensions.

He told those on hand that day that any cut in pensions would devastate the well-being of retirees and force many out of their homes and into a life that, at their advanced age, they cannot handle. “Many of us are old; we can’t go back to work because we’ve had joint replacements, or some of us have lost our eyesight. We have medications that wouldn’t allow us to drive the trucks or work in warehouses like we used to,” Walden said. “Many can’t afford their medications if you reduce their pensions. They’ll die.”

That is what is at stake in this battle for justice. These workers aren’t asking for a handout; they just want what is rightfully theirs. It’s time for the joint committee to get to work and endorse this legislation that will make retirees whole. They’ve waited long enough.

James P. Hoffa is general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and one of the foremost authorities on union issues.