A Winning Strategy to Save Pensions

Over the past three years, the Teamster pension protection movement has done a tremendous job: this grassroots movement stopped the Central States from slashing pensions, caused an investigation of the fund, and built political support far and wide. But can we win real pension protection? We think we can.


We can win because the pension protection movement is not just about Teamsters. It’s about the nearly two million American retirees currently in serious danger of losing their pensions. It’s about threats to other pensions, and to social security and Medicare. And the threat of a financial crisis if millions of families lose their buying power.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that the average household income of an American age 75 is $34,097 and the average expenses exceed that, at $34,382. If those figures get worse, we will face a mega crisis: foreclosures, old-age homelessness, and health care costs exploding.

We can win, with allies and with a smart strategy.

Our Pension Movement

It’s important to remember that our fight started when a carload of retired and active Teamsters traveled to Washington in late 2013, to attend a hearing where Tom Nyhan told members of Congress that Central States would go broke within ten years and needed new laws to allow the fund to slash pensions. 

Brother Alex Adams, retired from Cleveland Local 407, spoke to the media there.

TDU called meetings in Cleveland-Akron and Milwaukee in early 2014, then encouraged the formation of independent and broad-based efforts that grew into a network of over 60 committees that last year formed the National United Committee to Protect Pensions (NUCPP).

These committees became the backbone for turning out hundreds and then thousands for meetings with Ken Feinberg and the U.S. Treasury reps. Pension activist leaders like Mike Walden from Ohio, Sherman Liimatainen from Minnesota, Bob Amsden and Bernie Anderson from Milwaukee and so many more all across the Central and Southern regions, have made Congress, the IBT and companies like UPS sit up and take notice.

That small carload from northeast Ohio morphed into a movement of thousands that beat back the Central States Fund’s drastic cuts.

Finding Solutions

The Keep Our Pension Promises Act (KOPPA) pointed the way: provide real PBGC protection for the so-called “orphan” pensions; that is, pension credits owed from companies that ran off-shore, went nonunion or bankrupt. In 2017, other legislation will be considered.

The NUCPP, led by Mike Walden, is in the midst of a range of talks with allies and Congressional representatives and staff, as well as other stakeholders, with the goal of leading to real funding solutions that would protect participants from the attacks we face from the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) of 2014.

The problem is that with the current make-up of Congress and the presidency, a renewed KOPPA or any other proposed legislation may have a tough time finding a majority and passage.

How Can We Win?

First, we need to keep building our movement. Pension Protection Committees need to continue to meet, grow, and organize actions or events. The NUCPP is committed to continue to help network these committees and be the voice for finding a real solution that prioritizes working and retired Teamsters – as well as all others facing pension cuts. These committees are reaching out to active Teamsters and local unions to stand behind the pension fight and make resources available for the fight.

A quarter million current Teamster retirees are threatened with cuts. The Central States Fund has 200,000, but Upstate New York and NY Local 707 are also in this fight, and no one is safe. The New England Fund has no cuts on the horizon, but it’s endangered too.

The June 2016 IBT Convention passed a resolution in support of the pension fight. Nine months later, it’s hard to see what the Hoffa administration has done to implement that resolution. We need Hoffa and the IBT to get fully on board with support for the movement.

We need to reach out to our allies. Every successful grassroots movement wins by broadening support, and winning enough allies to have real power. The Pension Rights Center has helped us build ties with other unions like the Mineworkers and Machinists and other important allies like the AARP.

The AARP is critical in this fight. And they are getting more active—they took an aggressive stand on the recent health care bill to defend Medicare and oppose the threatened cuts to seniors. 

The other element of every successful grassroots movement, from the civil rights movement to the fight for a decent minimum wage, is a cause that is just, that fair-minded people will support.

We need to take our cause to the American people: we are not asking for a bailout, we are asking for what we earned and deserve.

A Winning Strategy

First, put the blame where it belongs. Hard working truck drivers and trades workers and teachers who earned and were promised a pension are not the problem. Wall Street and runaway corporations caused the problem.

And averting a pension crisis will help protect our economy for all Americans. We cannot afford another 2008 collapse.

Second, propose real solutions that broadly benefit not just Teamsters but all seniors and all of society.

  • Make the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) a real protection, just as potent as the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) is for folks with millions in the bank. The FDIC is backed up by the US treasury, but the PBGC is not. That disparity between insurance protection for the wealthy but not for workers must end.
  • Go on the offense. Social Security should not only be defended, but improved. Raise the FICA cap to require the wealthy to pay their fair share into the social security fund to protect its future. Increase benefits and protect the cost of living protection. And fight to improve and expand Medicare.

The Teamster pension protection movement needs to keep on keepin’ on. Keep doing outreach. Keep the pressure on Congress. And—just as important—keep looking for allies to broaden our support.

It may be a tough road in the short run, but all successful movements have a third ingredient: they stick with it, they don’t give up and they don’t back down. Teamsters are known for those qualities. That’s how we can win.

Showing 13 reactions

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  • Richard Jennings
    commented 2017-10-30 15:34:26 -0400
    Ron Ogle, you need to do a lot more research regarding the politics that created all this mess. It was a Republican and Democrat who started, wrote and submitted the MPRA bill allowing the cuts. Then you need to go back to ERISSA laws of 1974 and realize Congress intentionally wrote ERISSA both lopsided and favoring single Employers Pension funds while underfunding the MultiEmployer Pensions with the PBGC. At $60,000 per person in Single Employer Pension funds and $12,000 per person in MultiEmployer Pension funds.
    At that point you can see that Congress has had plans knowing ultimately they would be able to damage organized labor in a crippling manner.
    It’s not ever been about protecting us the working class… It’s always been how to help the wealthiest!
  • John Kabeller
    commented 2017-04-07 12:01:06 -0400
    Central States Pension Fund is going broke. That is a fact.
    What are we going to do about it?
    TDU gives names of groups that are fighting for pension.
    Pointing fingers isn’t going to turn the clock back.
    The money is gone. That ship has sailed.

    Congress as said no bailout Rob Portman said no bail out.
    Hoffa talking to the President on April 5 th was a photo shot for both of them.
    If the President wants 400,000 votes all he has to do is bail out the Central States Pension Fund. Congress did for big banks. Think he will do it?
  • Brady Finley
    commented 2017-04-06 21:37:05 -0400
    The bill to cut our pensions was put in the Omnibus bill at the 11th hr. The President wasn’t going to veto the Omnibus bill because it would have shut the Government down.Nyhan and his Republican thieving friends knew it!
  • ron ogle
    commented 2017-04-06 18:00:05 -0400
    PS,Obama could have vetoed the legislation that allowed them to take our pensions.
  • ron ogle
    commented 2017-04-06 17:57:19 -0400
    You make comments about the “current make up of congress and the presidency”.Have you forgotten who was in power when without time for comments they changed federal law that now allows them to take our pensions.We need to face that fact that it is us against them.This is not a party thing.We need to start looking at who we support instead of just the Democrats.
  • Brady Finley
    commented 2017-04-05 03:41:30 -0400
    Why aren’t retired teamsters allowed to vote in the general election? We could have gotten rid of Hoffa and his cronies including Nyhan in the last election if we were allowed to vote! Hoffa is just like Trump uses the BAIT And SWITCH routine to get uninformed Voters! The only way that we are going to save our pensions is to change Congress! We do have the right to vote in those elections. The same group of thieves have been in charge since 2010 and look where we are today!!
  • Robert Hrifko
    commented 2017-04-04 15:32:02 -0400
    Brother(lol) Hoffa was for the bill before he was against the bill. Sound familiar? He moved against the bill when he saw the uprising from retirees. I’m in labor-weak Florida now, but still talk to active Teamsters whenever I can. What blows me away is when a college student overhears my discussion and asks me, “what exactly is a union?” I respond, “what are they teaching/not teaching you in higher learning institutions?” Wow.
  • Cynthia Anthony
    commented 2017-03-31 11:54:17 -0400
    Thanks for mentioning New York State Teamsters; the decision on our MPRA application is due on April 12th. More dire is the situation with Local 707 Teamsters, who are already under PBGC’s pension “payment” plan and suffering beyond words. Members of both NYSTPF and 707 have attempted to reach out to the NUCPP to add our numbers and our voice to the fight; NUCPP, which purports to represent all of us in the pension crisis, has offered no response. Members of the NUCPP report that progress is being made in the conversations they are having with MOC’s in DC, and TDU confirms that in this article, even stating that there are plans – solutions? – coming in 2017. Those of us fighting out here – especially those on the block already and those of us coming close to it – would like some transparency; would appreciate some indication of the direction those discussions are taking. We appreciate the efforts of the NUCPP and TDU; we would like to be more directly included in them.
  • Tina Bowers
    commented 2017-03-31 11:27:50 -0400
    Call your senator and your congress member every day put there phone number in your phone. They do take all calls .and when they are busy leave a message You Can tell your story and they will listen.
  • Richard Jennings
    commented 2017-03-31 11:19:04 -0400
    We worked our honest long hours for a fair wage. No matter the weather conditions etc. We worked long hours away from home and the toil and injuries on our bodies. We fought for those pensions as guranteed promises. Not some make believe I.O.U.
    Now in this fight some very important legal premise has been ignored!!! Fiduciary responsibilities. It is cited in multiple Labor acts regarding pensions and applies to ours and virtually NOBODY not even the lawyer hired by NUCCP is discussing any of it. Our fund was taken over by the Courts in 82 with them overseeing it. They became Fiduciary Responsible by the legal definitions in these acts. Same as Tom Nyhan and every Trustee, The Too Big to fail banks involved. So we have the Government, The Banks, The Trustees, all violating laws that are worded to be in the paraphrased “best interest of those benefitting from the Pension”. The IBT, The Government and so so far no lawyer is suing, charging, arresting or removing the people involved. WHY??? 12 billion dollars is a pretty large theft. I say theft from a mismanagement, fraudulent sales the banks were found guilty of in the 07-08 crisis. In the years Nyhan has been in charge “managing” only 2 years of gain and many years of raises for himself and the board. While we the Teamster Pensioners are looking at cuts and even total loss of income !!!!! Yet the other comparable pensions and Teamster pension plans in much more sound financial base. Nyhan and our Trustees used $5 million dollars of OUR money to lobby for MPRA to try and DESTROY 40 years of ERISA laws protecting pensions to cover their own mismanagement.
    YES WHERE IS THE IBT? WHERE IS BROTHER HOFFA? WHERE IS THE LAW FIRM READY TO GO AFTER THE EASIEST CASE AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT MISMANAGEMENT OF A PENSION FUND? INCLUDING REMOVAL OF THE APPOINTED TRUSTEES? WHY WON’T THE INTERNATIONAL OR THE LOCALE GIVE US THE LISTS OF ALL RETIREES AND ACTIVES? WHY AREN’T THE LOCALS 100% ON BOARD? This entire grass roots movement needs to jump into higher gears and be heard at higher levels from all of the TEAMSTERS. Why hasn’t the IBT been more cooperative giving us retiree membership names address phones? Same for the active members. We are growing larger despite their help. You saw the thousands in Washington DC…. Wouldn’t it be better to try to work together? We paid our dues for all those years into the Teamsters. Is the IBT saying retired Teamsters and their Pension funds don’t matter to the IBT? Is that why the lack of unified support? Yes you passed a resolution in 2016. Our battle is far from over the PENSION CRISIS IS NOT FIXED. No government funding resolved. Bankruptcy still imminent. Membership down. YRC 25% funding. Nyhan still managing. More going out than in. KOPPA still not passed. #BrotherHoffa time to do more than talk about this. We need the IBT TEAMSTER TEAMWORK added to the other groups involved.
  • Michael Berbari
    commented 2017-03-30 21:58:45 -0400
    We have to remind the government that they had 2 hands in this insolvency problem. #1.“Goldman Sachs as its main orchestrator. The ethical obscenity represented by this global financial collapse is clear. Eager customers were knowingly sold toxic mortgages by the world’s largest financial institutions, who then bet big against their clients’ ability to pay. In short, these firms wagered against the economy and the middle class, and reaped major profits for themselves as a result.” #2 Then Department of Justice failed to prosecute In the wake of a criminal act which cost the economy a conservative estimate of 13 trillion dollars, not a single instigator of this calamity has been brought before a court of law. Lanny Breuer was in charge of Department of Justice. You should watch “The Veneer of Justice in a Kingdom of Crime” Upsetting.
  • Walter Damm
    commented 2017-03-30 18:08:51 -0400
    Solidarity 😊 brothers & sisters😊 solidarity 😊 the only way solidarity 😊
  • Dale Dobbs
    commented 2017-03-30 17:50:49 -0400
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