Labor Voices: Michiganians demand action on pensions
Thousands of Teamsters, including Michigan members, retirees and their families, rallied on Capitol Hill last month to let Congress and federal authorities know they are not backing down in their fight to preserve their hard-earned Central States Pension Fund benefits.
The demonstration drew 15 lawmakers, including members of Michigan’s congressional delegation. They spoke out strongly in favor of protecting the pensions of hardworking Michiganians who contributed to their own financial future but now run the risk of being destitute.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow said, “A pension is a promise in America. And we need to keep our promises. It’s outrageous. You took less of a raise to get a pension. So we’ve got to make sure this happens. This is about the future of the middle class in this country.” Added Rep. Debbie Dingell, “We’re here with a simple message. The Treasury must reject the petition of Central States to cut their pensions. This issue affects people of both political parties and shouldn’t be divisive.”
The bipartisan collection of lawmakers who spoke at the event agreed, saying there is no justice in undoing retirement security for hundreds of thousands of everyday Americans who worked hard and played by the rules.
But the event also put a face to the pension cuts filed by Central States, which has proposed reducing them by as much as 70 percent for retirees and workers, many of whom are too old to work to bring in extra pay. Whether attendees were from Michigan, Ohio, North Dakota or North Carolina, they all had a story to tell about how these proposed cuts would change their lives forever.
They are people like Rita Lewis, widow of retired Local 100 President Butch Lewis, who spoke passionately about her husband’s commitment to stopping the pension cuts before his death last New Year’s Eve. She called on Congress to put aside party differences to help the thousands of retirees at risk.
She deserves it, just like all those who paid into plans like Central States deserve to receive the pensions they were promised. It’s their money. Yet it seems that the longer a worker paid into the fund, the higher the cut is. That doesn’t make any sense.
The Central States proposal, as previously noted, is unworkable. It is totally unrealistic in its projections, and even if it were to meet them, pension fund officials admit there is only a 50 percent chance the fund would remain solvent long term. For instance, the proposal assumes the fund will earn 7.5 percent each year to maintain solvency. Quite simply, there is no way to gauge whether the stock market will be able to hit such numbers over the long haul.
What is possible are several bills that attempt to empower Central States recipients. Capitol Hill lawmakers should take a close look at the Keep Our Pensions Promises Act sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, or the Pension Accountability Act offered by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Reps. David Joyce, R-Ohio, and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, as a way to solve the crisis facing Central States and other pension plans.
Everyday Americans deserve dignity, respect, and answers from federal authorities when it comes to retirement security. We’ll find out later this week whether Central States Teamsters receive it.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.