Teamsters, With Help From Loyal Lawmakers, Deliver on Pension Promise

Columbus, Ohio Pension Rally, July, 2018 retirees , Jim Hoffa

More than two decades of work by the Teamsters to save the retirement nest eggs of a million-plus hardworking Americans came to fruition in March when President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law, bringing relief to more than 200 multiemployer pension plans teetering on the edge of financial disaster.

The culmination of those efforts came rather swiftly after many previous starts and stops that had at times raised the hopes of affected families, only to dash them again. The president, working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, had promised to tackle pension reform in the lead up to the 2020 election if given the reins of power. And some 50 days after Biden took office, they did just that.

“Teamster members told the union as it ramped up its election efforts that pension security was their top concern,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said. “With that in mind, the union put together a plan to help elect President Biden and other lawmakers who promised to prioritize the retirements of hardworking Americans. They followed through with that promise and delivered for us.”

As part of the ARP, more than 50 Teamster pension plans – including its largest, the Central States Pension Fund – are eligible for assistance at the outset of the bill’s enactment, with more of the union’s plans becoming eligible in 2022.

Under the new law, money to assist eligible plans will come directly from the U.S. Treasury Department in the form of grants which would not need to be repaid. Plan participants will receive 100 percent of their earned pension benefits. Affected members and retirees are encouraged to contact their pension fund in the coming days to find out more information specific to their benefits.

Thanking Friends
Since the passage of pension reform, the Teamsters have been extending their gratitude by holding virtual events for longtime allies who fought alongside the union for years. Chief among them was House Ways & Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who crafted the pension portion of the ARP.

Neal said the inclusion of the pension language in the bill was gratifying, especially when President Biden during a meeting at the White House earlier this year let him know he was behind the effort. But he said it meant the most hearing from affected retirees and their surviving spouses.

“I spoke to Rita Lewis [after the law was enacted] and she said it was the first time she had gotten a good-night’s sleep in years,” he said. “These pensions are secure and they are going to be there for those who need them with no cuts.”

The Teamsters also hosted a similar event for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who continued to stand by the unions side on the issue through thick and thin. For her part, Stabenow – whose brother is a 30-year Teamster – said the vigilance of the union’s members, retirees and leadership let those in power know that the Teamsters meant business and weren’t going to back down.

“It’s an honor for me to be your partner,” she said. “A promise made, it ought to be kept. This was our moment, and we couldn’t lose it. We had to do it.”

Hoffa said his phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from delighted members and retirees since President Biden signed the ARP, with many of them particularly pleased that they will see no cuts in their hard-earned benefits. Given many of these people are living on fixed benefits, that’s essential.

“Most people are living on Social Security and their pension check,” he said. “They can’t afford cuts. But we got it done.”