Years of hard work and countless visits to the nation’s capital by working and retired Teamsters finally paid off last night when the House voted to approve H.R. 397, legislation that will protect the solvency of multiemployer pensions and bring retirement security to some 1.5 million Americans whose nest eggs are currently threatened.
Scores of Teamster-affiliated pensioners were joined by other union members and retirees in the House chamber as the votes rolled in putting the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act, more commonly referred to as The Butch Lewis Act, over the top. The House voted 264-169 in favor of the measure, with all of the Democrats plus 29 Republican lawmakers voting for the legislation.
Taking to the House floor toward the end of debate on the bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said “Congress has a responsibility” to stand up for hardworking Americans who had paid into such plans with the understanding they would receive their pensions in retirement.
She specifically mentioned the plights of Rita Lewis, the widow of retired Local 100 President Butch Lewis for whom the legislation is named, as well as Kenny Stribling, a Local 200 retiree and co-Chair of the Milwaukee Committee to Protect Pensions, among those who stood as examples for why Capitol Hill needs to intervene to fix the problem.
“Unchecked recklessness on Wall Street ignited a financial meltdown that dealt a devastating blow to multiemployer pension plans, while dangerous deregulation and relentless attacks against unions have eaten away at these plans’ health,” Pelosi said. “If we do not act, the pensions of many workers and retirees will be cut to the bone, and the futures of their families and communities will be thrown into jeopardy.”
Speaking to supporters of the bill earlier in the day, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said the union was standing up not only for its members and retirees, but others who could be punished through no fault of their own.
“You wonder how anyone could be against what we are for, helping people have a better life,” he said. “We are on the right side of the angels.”
Yesterday’s victory could not have happened without the hard work of Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.), the lead co-sponsors on the bill who together fought to push forward the legislation and garnered support of their colleagues in both parties. But the job doesn’t end there.
The measure now heads to the Senate, where the Republican-led chamber will have to be convinced to take it up. Sen. Sherrod Brown yesterday introduced a Senate companion bill to H.R. 397. It is S. 2254 and has 26 co-sponsors.
Teamsters who have been involved in the fight know it will not be easy. But they urged their fellow union brothers and sisters to reach out to their senators during the upcoming August recess and get them to support the legislation.
“Especially some of the members who are against us, we have to remind them that we vote for our congressmen, we don’t buy them,” said Mike Walden, President of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions and Local 24 retiree. “They have to know that we do get out and vote and we are constituents. We have thousands in some of these states, not only our union but other unions. This is a pension crisis and everyone needs to step up.”
Stribling added, “I urge all of our members out there to call, and to continue to call, and let you senators know how important this issue really is. Let’s get this solution through the Senate and to the President’s desk and get it signed!”