WASHINGTON D.C. —State Rep. Garland Pierce was in Washington this week to add his voice to thousands of people arguing that teamsters pensions should not be cut.
The Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund filed an application for cuts to the Treasury Department in September 2015 as allowed under the Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014.
“These cuts must not be approved,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “You worked hard every day, year after year for the promise of a secure retirement. That was the deal. Now Central States wants to slash your pensions by up to 60 percent? Not on my watch. We will use every resource available to our union to stop these cuts.”
Treasury appointee Ken Feinberg has until May 7 to approve or reject the application for benefit reductions.
Pierce said the proposed cuts may mean that many retirees would face cuts of 50 percent or more to their retirement benefits.
“Many of us today never thought we would be standing in Washington, DC fighting for our benefits,” Pierce said. “This is unacceptable and it should be a wake- up call to all Americans.”
Pierce said people should contact their representatives in Congress.
If these pension cuts go forward it will be opening the door to other pensions to be cut that could affect thousands across America,” Pierce said. “Congress has bailed out groups and we feel strongly that they should ensure that these cuts are not made to our hard working citizens. They deserve what was promised to them.”
There does seem to be support in Congress to oppose the cuts. In February, a bipartisan collection of 90 House members signed onto a letter sent to the Treasury asking it to reject Central States’ application. And 25 senators, both Republicans and Democrats, did the same in a separate letter.
“For years, workers have paid into the Central States pension plan,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said. “Now, those promises are being broken. And it’s not right. I believe those that work hard and are promised retirement security should be able to retire with dignity.”
The Central States fund is vastly underfunded because of investment losses suffered in the Great Recession and because shrinking union membership has left many more Teamsters drawing retirements from it than are contributing to it. By some estimates, the fund will be insolvent within a decade.
But the proposed cuts that range up to 70 percent have drawn calls for alternatives to the law that Minnesota Republican Rep. John Kline helped attach to the federal budget in 2014. Opponants say the provision in the law was an 11th-hour parliamentary move that ensured the pension reform act was not debated or voted on as a separate bill.
“This legislation went through in the dead of night,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.
During the rally that lasted more than two hours, Rita Lewis, widow of retired Local 100 president Butch Lewis, spoke passionately about her husband’s commitment to stopping the CSPF cuts and called for Congress to put aside party differences to help the thousands of retirees at risk.
“I would like a bipartisan, permanent solution to solve this pension crisis, for the Teamsters and all union members that have worked for years to earn their pension,” Lewis said. “A promise is a promise is a promise.”
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million workers.