Labor Voices: It’s the summer of pension reform for Teamsters
Summer might be a time of relaxation for many, but for the Teamsters, it’s been a non-stop push for pension reform in Detroit and across the country in an effort to secure the retirements of upwards of 1.5 million hardworking Americans.
Late last month, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn led a congressional delegation who joined myself, UAW President Gary Jones and hundreds of union members and retirees at a town hall forum in the Motor City to call for urgent action to protect pensions. The event shed light on the fact that 43,000 Michiganders could be devastated by looming pension failures.
Workers and retirees are worried for good reason. Many worked for decades and contributed to their pensions under the understanding they would be supported in their golden years. That is now being called into question, and it’s not right.
The Teamsters are fighting for a legislative solution and working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The union supports the passage of the Butch Lewis Act of 2017 which was introduced in Congress last November by Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts and has received bipartisan support. The House bill is co-sponsored by Dingell, as well as Reps. Sander Levin, Dan Kildee and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, while the Senate measure has the backing of Michigan’s Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters.
A bipartisan House-Senate Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans has been tasked with working on a fix to the looming pension crisis by November. Dingell, a member of the panel, joined with some of her colleagues in attending a July 13 field hearing in Columbus, Ohio where lawmakers heard from workers, retirees and employers who are concerned about their futures.
During the committee hearing, Dingell stated she had heard from many constituents who were severely stressed about the situation, including one she described as suicidal and another who asked her what he should tell his dying wife about the status of his pension.
“People don’t understand,” she said at the hearing. “These are people who worked all their lives and played by the rules. It’s not fair.”
Unfortunately, not everyone on the joint committee heard those comments. Indeed, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio was the only one of the panel’s eight Republicans to attend.
The Teamsters joined with the United Mine Workers and the Bakery Workers to make sure elected officials didn’t miss the point. The unions hosted two rallies on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse on July 12 and 13 that drew in excess of 10,000 attendees to draw attention to those being affected.
Last week in Washington, more Republicans heard directly from those who will be impacted during a meeting of the committee in Washington. Retired Teamster Kenny Stribling from Milwaukee told lawmakers “this isn’t a partisan issue, it’s about fairness.”
Add in Capitol Hill visits by Teamsters from across the country in mid-July where they lobbied on behalf of the Butch Lewis Act, and that ends up being a very busy month. But this issue demands the effort. Having benefits cut by two-thirds or more will lead to retirees losing their homes and not being able to pay for essential medicines. That’s not living with dignity and is unconscionable for those who spent decades toiling away to support their families.
Now is the time for Republicans and Democrats at all levels of government to come together and find a solution. That’s why the Teamsters are calling on all members of Congress, regardless of party, and President Trump to join together and support the Butch Lewis Act for these hardworking men and women who have given their all to their nation.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.