Pension Cuts Take A Human Toll

March 16, 2006: When the Central States Pension Fund trustees, led by chairman Fred Gegare, made drastic cuts two years ago, Teamsters knew their futures were not as secure as they once assumed. Those close to retirement paid the most attention, and took the lead in the Teamster fightback. These Teamsters thought they were set after nearly 30 years of hard work and couldn’t imagine top Teamster officials joining with the companies in such an attack. But now younger Teamsters are also getting informed and getting involved. Our pension and health and welfare benefits are about the future of our union. Restoring benefits will be key to organizing new members. “I’m 34 with six full-time and ten part-time years in at UPS,” said Chris Janssen from Des Moines Local 90. “There’s no guarantee positive changes are coming down the road. Others with my years of experience are getting discouraged. It’s hard to see having to work another 25 years to get to the full pension. What happened to the ‘25 and out’ that we won in 1997?” Janssen isn’t the only one with these views. Ross Thompson, a UPS package driver in Kansas City Local 41, commented, “I started driving full-time at UPS in 1990 and had already done five years part-time. My goal was to raise my family and retire by age 55. Now it looks like I’m going to be forced to work until I’m 59 if I want to collect on a full pension. “I’m not alone. Thousands of package car drivers and Teamsters in other industries are in the same boat. How are our bodies supposed to take it?” New Rule Can Drive Teamsters Out The Teamster leadership has no plan to restore the pension and medical benefits that have been taken from retirees. Those who built the union are being dumped on. But, as the brothers Janssen and Thompson indicate, this problem is about the future of our union. Central States has put into effect a new “seven percent” rule, which could drive more people out of our pension fund. This rule says that every contract negotiated must have a seven percent increase per year, each year, in pension contributions. A business rep with ongoing bargaining at three companies right now told us, “This is going to take most of our bargaining power away. At the top benefit level, we have to bargain over 40 cents an hour every year into the pension fund. Where will we find enough money to maintain health benefits?” If a contract fails to meet the seven percent test, the Teamsters under that contract will be kicked out of the pension fund. They are given no other option. This is likely to be devastating for affected Teamsters, and will reduce the size of our fund as well. The Teamster pension used to be the gold standard for retirement, and can be once again. But we need leadership that has the will to do it. It’s too easy for big-shot union officials who are drawing two or three salaries and earning multiple pensions to forget what it is like for members who are getting their bodies beat up on the job. This is why TDU members will propose an amendment to the Teamster constitution that would require pension trustees to be held accountable to the membership.

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