Teamsters from across the nation descended on Capitol Hill this week to lobby lawmakers and learn about the union’s plans to get involved and activate membership in advance of the 2018 election.
About 125 political coordinators from locals all over the U.S. spent today going from office to office meeting with elected officials and talking about pension reform, specifically the Butch Lewis Act. The bill would boost financially troubled multiemployer pensions so they don’t fail. It would create a new agency under the U.S. Treasury Department that would sell bonds in the open market to large investors such as financial firms.
Two of those Teamsters involved in such efforts were from Local 104 in Phoenix. Dawn Schumann, the local’s statewide political coordinator, and Ryan Proctor, a business agent, visited seven offices and met with lawmakers and staff. Their message was pension reform is necessary for workers.
“There needs to be some kind of reform for these members,” Proctor said. “They set this money aside. They worked these hours and are entitled to their pensions.”
Among their stops was to the office of Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a member of the Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans. There, they left 1,500 petitions from Arizona Teamsters asking the lawmaker to support the Butch Lewis Act.
Pensions were also a top issue during the first day of the Teamsters Political & Legislative Coordinators Conference, when several lawmakers spoke to attendees about the need for reform.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), lead sponsor of the Butch Lewis Act in the House, thanked the Teamsters for all their work to get the word out on the legislation. “I’m delighted with what you have done on this,” he said. “The Democrats will hold fast. We have got to convince some Republicans. And I have a few in mind.”
One GOP lawmaker who doesn’t need any convincing is Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). He became the first Republican to co-sponsor the bill, and said more in Congress need to stick up for pension reform. “I am proud to be on the bill and will do everything I can to enact it,” he said. “Working people kept their part of the deal on this. To lose [their pensions] now … is completely unfair.”
The concerns of the Teamsters, however, go beyond pensions. Speaking about trade, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is one area where a bipartisan solution involving the White House might be possible.
“Every year … we try to build a better template for NAFTA,” she said. “I hope this is an area where Democrats in Congress and the administration can find some common ground.”
Meanwhile, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa, speaking to attendees, told them they must be ready to seize upon the momentum building to elect officials who will stand up for hardworking Americans.
“People are saying what the heck is going on,” he said. “Things are changing. We need to get people out to the polls. We have to be at the forefront to turn this thing around.”