Senator Outlines Solution to Secure Teamsters, Miners and Other Retiree Pension Plans under Threat, Announces Plans to Push for Pensions Fix in Congress’ Year-End Priorities

On his weekly conference call Wednesday, Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown discussed his plan to introduce legislation that will ensure Ohio retirees can keep the pensions they have earned.

Numerous Ohio pension plans, including the massive Central States Teamsters Pension Plan, the United Mine Workers Pension Plan, the Ironworkers Local 17 Pension Plan, the Ohio Southwest Carpenters Pension Plan and the Bakers and Confectioners Pension Plan are currently on the brink of failure and threatened by massive cuts, a release from Brown’s office said.

Brown plans to introduce legislation that will put the pension plans back on solid footing and ensure they can meet their obligations to current retirees and workers for decades to come, without cuts. Brown will name the bill after Butch Lewis, the former retired head of Teamsters Local 100 in Evendale, Ohio. Brown intends to lead the charge in Congress to include the fix for pensions in any year end legislative priorities, the release said.

“It’s bad enough that Wall Street squandered workers’ money – and it’s worse that the government that’s supposed to look out for these folks is trying to break the promise made to these workers. Not on our watch. We won’t allow that to happen,” Brown said.

Brown was joined on the call by Rita Lewis, Butch’s widow, who has continued her late husband’s fight for the retirement security these workers earned over a lifetime of hard work, according to the release.

“The Butch Lewis act, and the passing if it, will restore our dignity, our security and peace of mind, knowing we will have security at last!  No one should ever be forced to fight for, or die for the pension they were promised!  A promise, is a promise, is a promise,” Lewis said.

If nothing is done to the plans they will fail and retirees will face massive cuts to the benefits they earned over decades of work, the release warned. If the plans are allowed to fail, not only will they no longer be able to pay promised benefits, but taxpayers would be at risk of having to pay billions because the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) would be on the hook for billions of dollars it cannot pay, it said. PBGC is the arm of the federal government that insures pension plans.

 Brown’s Butch Lewis Act would:

  1. Put failing pension plans back on solid ground to ensure they can meet their commitments to retirees today and workers for decades to come.
  2. Do so without cutting a single cent from the benefits retirees have earned.
  3. Put safeguards in place to encourage pensions to remain strong so they can be there for today’s workers when they retire.

Brown’s plan is supported by the National United Committee to Protect Pensions.

“Like many of my fellow Teamsters, I served my country proudly in the military and worked hard for decades to provide for my family,” said Mike Walden, retired Teamster, President of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions, and Vietnam Veteran. “I’ve never asked for anything from this country, but I don’t want to see my government take away something we’ve worked hard for and earned.”

How does the Butch Lewis Act Work?

This legislation creates a new office within the U.S. Treasury Department, known as the Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA). The PRA would allow pension plans to borrow the money they need to remain solvent and continue providing retirement security for retirees and workers for decades to come.

The money for the loans and the cost of running the PRA would come from the sale of Treasury-issued bonds to financial institutions.

To ensure that the pension plans can afford to repay the loans, the PRA would lend them money for 30 years at low interest rates. The 30-year loans would buy time for the pension plans to make smart long-term investments for the future, while continuing to pay benefits owed to current retirees.

The bill would not allow any plan to borrow more than it can pay back to taxpayers. It would also prohibit any borrowed funds from being used to make risky investments. And it requires plans that borrow money to submit reports every three years to demonstrate that the plans are on track to getting back on solid footing.

The PBGC would fill the gap between money borrowed from the PRA and any additional funding needed to pay benefits owed to current retirees while the plans get back on track. The bill provides this money to the PBGC, but any money needed for the PBGC would be a tiny fraction of what it would otherwise be on the hook for if Congress fails to act.

Who is Butch Lewis?

Estil “Butch” Lewis was a Vietnam War veteran who returned home and worked for 40 years as a trucker and Teamster. He was the retired head of Teamsters Local 100 in Evendale, Ohio. Butch led the fight to preserve his fellow Teamsters’ pensions, and passed away due to a stroke on New Year’s Eve in 2015. Doctors attributed his stroke, at least in part, to the stress he faced fighting the proposed pension cuts. His wife Rita Lewis, with whom he was set to celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary before he died, has continued her late husband’s fight for the retirement security these workers earned over a lifetime of hard work.

  • Retrofuturistic

    Thank you, Sherrod Brown. I hope this applies to teachers and other public service workers, who have already suffered serious reductions in retirement payments, as a result of hedge funds having been permitted, by the Ohio legislature, to extract something like $2.6 billion from Ohio public service pensions.

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