April 16, 2013: Three thousand Teamsters, active and retired, headed to the union hall in Kansas City. What sparked the monster turnout and what does it say about Teamsters and our pensions?
Over 250 people showed up at the Local 41 union meeting last Saturday. Another 3000 retirees showed up for a meeting that afternoon.
What sparked this monster Teamster turnout? A report from Central States Pension Fund representatives, after TDU broke the news that the pension fund and the Hoffa administration are lobbying to pass a new law that would allow Central States to cut pensions, including for current retirees.
The turnout shows that Teamsters in the Central States are deeply concerned. If you're one of them, keep reading.
Find out what Al Nelson, a top Central States administrator said about pension legislation that could lead to benefit cuts. And learn what Teamsters, active and retired, are doing to defend their pensions.
Kansas City, Here I Come
Teamsters turned out for the meetings in Kansas City in record numbers. They filled the hall. They filled the parking lot. Cars were parked on grass and all over the neighborhood. Police came to help unclog the traffic. Some 1500 retirees were able to get into the hall, while others had to be turned away.
Teamsters came for information. But it could be the birth of a movement, a movement to defend our pensions.
"We should have had media there, and invited Congressional people," UPS driver Wes Epperson told us. "We need busloads of Teamsters and retirees visiting our Congressional representatives, not just backroom lobbying by Pension Fund officials."
Epperson hit the microphone at the union meeting to question Al Nelson, the Benefits Services Director of the Central States Fund.
Nelson started off with a routine report, noting the investment returns of the fund, etc. But the members' questions changed all that. Here is what came out:
Nelson said that allowing UPS to pull out of Central States in 2007 was a mistake, and that the fund opposed it, but could not stop the deal between UPS and the Hoffa administration.
Nelson admitted that Central States and the IBT are part of the lobbying group behind the document "Solutions not Bailouts", which calls on Congress to enact a new law this year to allow “deeply troubled” funds (Central States) to slash pensions.
When questioned, Nelson admitted that their plan is to cut all pensions across the board now, with the intention of keeping the fund solvent longer.
Some members dropped F-bombs, but the main discussion was respectful and driven by well-informed members concerned about their pensions. And Nelson gave them answers.
Pension Legislation Smoke & Mirrors
At the second meeting of the day, the one for retirees, Nelson was startled by the big crowd and eager to put the right spin on things. This time he said the Solutions not Bailouts document is not an official Central States position, but just an opinion paper by some individuals.
If you believe that, we've got some high-priced YRC stock to sell you.
The fact is that the pension coalition that the IBT, UPS, and Central States Fund have joined has hired lobbyists, led by former Congressman Earl Pomeroy, to get legislative changes introduced into Congress this year.
Pomeroy recently told a conference of actuaries that the recommendations in Solutions not Bailouts "are being drafted into bill language, and an effort to engage legislative interest has already begun."
Nelson told the retirees that their pensions cannot be cut if they have already received 13 checks. Many retirees left the room, happy to hear that. But Nelson forgot to mention that this could all change if the Congressional action being pushed for by Central States, UPS and Hoffa gets passed.
Retiree Dave Scheidt questioned Nelson and told us that "It should be about solidarity. In my 32 years as a Teamster, we have stood up for each other. On the Overnite strike line, and lots of other times. We should be doing the same to defend the pensions of all Teamsters."
Every Teamster we spoke with commended Local 41 for sponsoring the meeting, and mailing a notice to all retirees, who otherwise would never have known about it.
Should your local do the same? All it takes is an invitation to the pension fund, a notice to stewards, and a mailing to all retirees.
Teamsters Taking Action
The massive meetings in Kansas City shows Teamsters care about their pensions. They deserve information and a plan of action that brings members and retirees behind legislation that protects our pensions.
Members in some cities are starting to ask their Local to organize a Teamster Pension Meeting with a rep from the Central States.
"We need meetings here in Memphis, as well as all across the Midwest and South," said Willie Hardy, a Local 667 retiree and TDU organizer. "Members need information, and we need a grassroots campaign to defend our pensions."
You can be a part of this movement to defend Teamster members' pensions.
Contact TDU for help. We'll help you put together a petition for a Teamster Pension Meeting with Central States in your local.
TDU will also be organizing rank-and-file meetings to inform members about pension legislation and what action we can take to defend our pensions.
There is also talk about forming a Pension Defense Committee for all Central States retirees and Teamsters. If you want to be part of the solution, click here to send a message to the TDU with your ideas or questions.