Millions of Americans who depend on multi-employer pension plans for their retirement security are looking to federal legislation introduced Tuesday to make sure their pension is there when they need it.
Members of Minnesota Pension Rights and the Teamsters, whose Central States Pension Fund faces insolvency, organized a rally at the state Capitol in St. Paul. It coincided with similar events around the country and a news conference in Washington, D.C., where U.S. Senator Al Franken, DFL-Minn., and several others announced the Keep Our Pension Promises Act of 2017.
Franken knows what it is like to be in a multi-employer pension plan, having been a member of the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA unions during his career in entertainment.
“These agreements should mean something,” Franken said. “That’s all we’re talking about here – live up to your agreement … If you care about the working men and women of this country, then you will want them to have secure retirements and that means honoring their pensions.”
Bob Martinez, president of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, also spoke at the Washington news conference, saying, “Too many Americans have already had their earned retirements ripped away from them through no fault of their own. Where I’m from in Texas, we call that highway robbery.”
More than 10 million Americans are covered by multiemployer pension plans. Another 30 million Americans are in single employer pensions. Both are overseen and insured by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
In 2014, Congress changed the rules, allowing struggling pensions to deny workers the benefits they had been promised. Some of the 400,000 workers and retirees covered by the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund faced cuts of 50 percent or more. About 18,000 affected Teamsters live in Minnesota.
The planned cuts were rejected by the U.S. Treasury Department and retirees have been spared — for now. But the long-term future of the Teamsters’ benefits remains in doubt.
The Keep Our Pension Promises Act would boost funding for the PBGC so it can keep the promises made to pensioners. It would do so by closing two tax loopholes used by the wealthiest Americans. It is currently the only legislative solution to the multiemployer pension crisis, Franken’s office said.
Participants in Tuesday’s rally in St. Paul welcomed the federal legislation. They were joined by three members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation – Keith Ellison, Rick Nolan and Tim Walz.
“It’s something you negotiated on in good faith, with the assumption and the belief that it would be there when you needed it,” Walz told the crowd. “Keep in mind – that bailout that happened on Wall Street put the pressure on these pensions. While we were there as taxpayers to ensure our financial system was supported, we need to be there to make sure our workers are supported.”
Ellison urged people to keep up the heat, saying action “will send a signal throughout Minnesota and the United States that you cannot mess around with people’s pensions that they have worked for their whole life.”
Nolan said the threat to worker pensions is yet another example of “a system that is rigged to help the few at the expense of the many. It calls and begs and demands for change!”
The three, along with Congresswoman Betty McCollum and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who could not attend the rally, pledged their support for the Keep Our Pension Promises Act.