Hundreds of Teamster members and retirees came to Washington on September 10 to voice outrage over proposed rules governing pension cuts and support for legislation that would bolster multi-employer plans at the center of the dispute.
They gathered at both a Capitol Hill rally and a hearing hosted by the U.S. Treasury Department to share how legislation proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (DOhio) is needed and how they would be adversely affected by potential cuts to their retirements.
The “Keep Our Pension Promises Act” (KOPPA) would protect workers and retirees from cuts to their earned retirement benefits. The legislation would roll back provisions that were slipped into the fiscal 2015 spending bill approved by Congress last year that made earned pension benefits vulnerable to cuts.
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa told workers during the Capitol Hill event that the federal government guaranteed pensions would be there for workers when they enacted the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) more than 40 years ago and must not go back on that promise.
“You played by the book and they pulled out the rug,” he said. “It is devastating. We’ve been fighting it. There was a promise made, and we’ve got to keep it.”
Sen. Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, said KOPPA is key because it would protect retirees who could suffer from pension changes imposed by Congress late last year through no fault of their own. He said it would be a travesty to implement cuts that could reduce benefits by as much as 60 percent.
“Tens of thousands of retirees in the middle class today, who intended to retire in the middle class, could slip into poverty,” he said. “That is unconscionable and we cannot allow that. We have got to send a very loud message.”
Earlier in the day, Teamsters International Vice President John Murphy and others testified before a panel of federal officials representing the Treasury and Labor departments as well as the IRS and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. They urged panelists to do everything they can to protect retirees in failing pension plans.
If cuts are ultimately necessary, Murphy said they should be phased in slowly to minimize the burden on retirees and should be as low as possible to keep a pension solvent.