Quantcast
Connect with us

How the GOP-controlled Senate is putting pensions of 1.3 million Americans at risk

Published

on

Glen Heck spent 28 years sweating in a Campti, Louisiana, paper mill that he likes to say was “hotter than nine kinds of hell.”

But now, Heck’s sacrifice may have been for nothing because his multiemployer pension plan is one of about 150 nationwide set to go broke. If that happens, the 78-year-old Heck will have to find a cheaper, lower-quality health plan and keep the beef herd he’s itching to sell.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Democratic-controlled House passed—with bipartisan support—a commonsense plan to save Heck’s pension and those of another 1.3 million workers, retirees, and widows. But Republican leaders in the Senate refuse to consider it.

In the meantime, the futures of workers and retirees like Heck hang in the balance. Many face retirement with fear instead of anticipation.

Multiemployer pension plans like Heck’s include workers from two or more companies in industries such as transportation, entertainment, construction and paper. Employers make contributions for workers as part of their compensation. Heck and others often give up wage increases or other benefits to fund those plans.

Many of the 1,400 plans nationwide are still healthy. But through no fault of workers or retirees, about 150 are struggling.

Recessions in 2001 and 2008 cut the plans’ investment earnings, and some corporations used bankruptcies to evade pension obligations. Deregulation forced less-competitive companies out of business, straining the plans’ resources.

ADVERTISEMENT

Now, they owe more money to beneficiaries than they have coming in, and they’re at risk of collapsing. The PACE Industry Union-Management Pension Fund (PIUMPF)—Heck’s plan—is one of them. According to recent projections, the fund will be insolvent in as few as 10 years.

Under the bill passed by the House, the Butch Lewis Act, the Treasury Department would loan money to troubled plans. The plans would use the money to meet their obligations to retirees, and they would repay the loans over 30 years.

The federal government already has an agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), to pay benefits to retirees when multiemployer plans crumble. But it’s no substitute for the Butch Lewis Act.

ADVERTISEMENT

PBGC provides only a fraction of the benefits beneficiaries earned. Also, so many plans are imperiled that the PBGC’s insurance program itself is at risk of collapse.

If plans fail, workers and retirees will lose as much as 98 percent of their benefits. The Butch Lewis Act would ensure that they receive the money they earned, not pennies on the dollar.

ADVERTISEMENT

Heck, a former officer with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-1331 in Campti, knows widows of paper workers—one with a small child—who’d be financially devastated without their late husbands’ pensions. He knows a retiree with major health problems who’d have no way of paying medical bills without his pension checks.

“He’s just worried to death about it,” said Heck, who worked at the paper mill under a handful of operators, including current owner International Paper.

Cedric McClinton, president of Local 13-1331 and a technician at the paper mill, said pensions are the main source of retirement income for many workers and retirees. If those benefits get cut, there’s no easy way to make up the difference.

ADVERTISEMENT

“You’re either looking at working longer—and who wants to work until you’ve got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel—or you’re looking at making concessions after you’ve worked all that time,” McClinton said.

Workers worry about downsizing their homes, giving up travel plans and going on government assistance programs.

“We talk about these things all the time,” McClinton said. “It’s real.”

Instead of passing the Butch Lewis Act to fix the pension crisis, Senate Republicans introduced legislation that would make the problem worse.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee want to increase the premiums that retirement plans pay PBGC—something that would push currently healthy plans into financial ruin and put more workers’ retirements in jeopardy. The added costs also would propel some employers into bankruptcy, costing workers their jobs.

Grassley and Alexander also want to increase taxes on pensions, taking a bigger slice of the benefits workers earned and imposing a greater burden on retirees unable to afford it.

Workers and retirees didn’t create the pension crisis. But Grassley and Alexander want them to pay for it.

“That’s mind-boggling,” fumed Travis Birchfield, who’s lobbied for the Butch Lewis Act on behalf of Evergreen Packaging workers represented by USW Local 507 in Canton, North Carolina. “We’ve done bailouts and tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and then working people can’t get a damn loan?”

ADVERTISEMENT

Uncertainty gnaws at Birchfield’s coworkers. Some in their 60s are thinking about retirement, but hesitate because of the pension crisis.

“They’ll ask us, ‘what do you think is going to happen?’ We can’t answer those questions,” Birchfield said.

McClinton and Birchfield pounded the halls of the Capitol to share members’ stories and concerns. But Senate Republicans fail to get the message.

Pensions aren’t perks or “extras.” Workers earned these benefits, and they rely on that money being there during their golden years, just as members of Congress count on receiving taxpayer-subsidized pensions when they leave office.

Failing to pass the Butch Lewis Act means consigning 1.3 million Americans to meager retirements. Some will fall into poverty after supporting themselves all of their lives. Many already see their dreams slipping away.

ADVERTISEMENT

These hardworking men and women deserve immediate Senate passage of a responsible bill that safeguards their futures.

“Nobody’s trying to get rich here,” Birchfield stressed. “We’re just trying to get our retirements.”

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

ADVERTISEMENT


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

‘Didn’t Trump want the death penalty for drug offenses?’: White House mocked for claim Blagojevich was freed to combat ‘aggressive sentencing’

Published

on

During an appearance on Fox News this Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley addressed President Trump's recent pardons and commutations, specifically the commutation of Rod Blagojevich, suggesting it was done in an effort to clamp down on "aggressive sentencing" by prosecutors.

"The fact is, the president is clearly against excessive sentencing," Gidley said. "Whether it's Rod Blagojevich or Alice Johnson, he's focused on making sure people who serve time in prison, who have rehabilitated, who show regret and show remorse, don't have to rot away in a jail cell their whole life."

Continue Reading

2020 Election

Will Wednesday’s debate finally prove that Bloomberg is not Batman?

Published

on

After months of highly repetitive Democratic primary debates that, with pointless inevitability, turn into tedious squabbles over different health care plans that will never actually be passed in their proposed forms, there's finally going to be some real tension going into a debate again. That's because information billionaire and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg is expected to show up tonight in Las Vegas, having purchased his way into the debate by infusing the airwaves and our very bloodstreams with a series of ads that are as inspiring as Bloomberg the man is not.

This article was originally published at Salon

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Paul Krugman debunks Trump’s bogus claims about the ‘Obama economy’

Published

on

President Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted that his policies alone are responsible for the economic recovery in the United States, claiming that he inherited a broken economy from his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama. But Trump’s claims are wildly misleading, and economist/New York Times columnist Paul Krugman debunked some of them this week in a Twitter thread.

Krugman tweeted, “So, I see that Trump is bad-mouthing the Obama economy. Two points. First, there was absolutely no break in economic trends after the 2016 election.”

The 66-year-old Krugman posted a chart showing GDP (gross domestic product) from 2010 (when Obama was serving his first term) to 2020 (three years into Trump’s presidency). GDP, the chart shows, gradually improved during Obama’s eight-year presidency.

Continue Reading
 
 
close-image