Pension Legislation on Senate Rollercoaster

October 18, 2005: Pension reform legislation was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in early September and appeared to be on a fast track. But then business interests intervened and the bill was postponed, apparently until the end of the year.

The HELP bill would provide a range of financial relief to defined benefit pension funds, like the funds that cover many Teamsters.

A negative provision called the Red Zone amendment was not included in the HELP version—thanks to some hard work by Teamster local officers and rank and filers who traveled to Washington to meet with Senate staff about the provision. Had it not been defeated, it would have allowed troubled plans to cut back pension benefits that have already been accrued.

Different corporate and union interests have voiced opposition to the pension bill based on particulars of their industries. Continental and American Airlines opposed parts that would benefit their bankrupt competitors. General Motors and the United Auto Workers attacked a provision that would tie pension contribution requirements to a corporation’s credit rating, noting that the auto industry has cyclical ups and downs.

A coalition that includes UPS management, the IBT and some Teamster pension plans offered amendments to provide more breathing room for under-funded multi-employer plans that were hurt by the stock market in 2000-2001.

Meanwhile, the International Union has been on its own roller coaster regarding the legislation. Last spring, when the house passed a similar bill, HR 2830, the IBT was pressing locals to circulate petitions in support of the legislation. Later they said they would take a wait and see attitude, and in late September the IBT issued a bulletin stating they now oppose both the House and Senate versions as drafted.

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