Thousands of Teamsters, retirees and their families rallied on Capitol Hill today 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 rally drew senators, congressmen and union leaders. But just as importantly it brought 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. The Treasury Department has until May 7 to rule on the proposal.
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said those who have paid into plans like Central States deserve to receive the pension they were promised.
“It’s our money,” he told pension rally attendees. “We paid into this fund, we want to get this money back. The longer you paid into the fund, the higher the cut. Does that make any sense?”
A bipartisan collection of lawmakers agreed, saying there is no justice in undoing retirement security for hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans.
“I’m here with one message. When you work and play by the rules, the government shouldn’t be throwing you under the trucks you drive,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and we’re here to fight back.”
“You worked hard and played by the rules only to have the rug torn out from under you,” Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said. “The fact that this was done behind closed doors only adds to the frustration and breeds cynicism.”
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. But it has lost about $2 billion in value since the June 2015 numbers used in the report submitted as part of Central States’ application last October. Quite simply, there is no way to gauge whether the stock market will be able to hit such numbers over the long haul.
In addition, the Central States’ proposal presumes employers will continue to increase their pension contributions between two and four percent each year. That means in 50 years they will be paying $848 a week in pension payments for each employee alone. That’s not going to happen.
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 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 elected officials when it comes to retirement security.