Pension Movement Fights on New Fronts

September 15, 2005: The fight for pension justice has focused on the U.S. Congress in recent weeks, as Teamsters have organized to support legislation that helps Teamster funds, and to oppose a dangerous amendment that endangers our benefits.

Teamster members are starting to get results. On Sept. 8, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a pension bill which did not include the anti-worker “Red Zone Amendment” that would allow certain plans to make drastic cuts in promised early retirement benefits earned by long-time Teamsters.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of concerned members, key Senators understood the devastating effect this could have on workers who have earned 25- and 30-and-out benefits.

Teamsters have called, written and visited Representatives and Senators to make their views heard. We need to keep it up—the full Senate will likely vote on the pension bill in late September, and amendments will likely be made from the floor. Now is the time to be involved, to say Yes to pension reform, and No to an amendment that would repeal the anti-cutback language in federal pension law.

For more information on the bill and how you can help, go to the Pension Rights Center website at: http://pensionrights.org/pages/policy_multiemployer.html.

Pension Bills

The “Defined Benefit Security Act” was passed by the Senate HELP Committee on a vote of 18-2. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) opposed it, because of its provisions on cash balance plans. Essentially this part of the bill would allow companies to break early retirement promises in single-employer plans. This bad language would not directly affect workers covered by Teamster multiemployer plans.

The bill has positive provisions. It would allow multiemployer plans more breathing room to recover following stock downturns. It would also impose stricter standards on plans, so that they would have to make reasonable actuarial assumptions and interest projections, and speed up the funding of benefit improvements. At least theoretically, it would hold trustees and managers to a higher standard of fund management, and prevent our plans from being taken over by the federal pension insurance program, which provides only very low guarantees. The Senate bill would require disclosure to participants of full actuarial reports and other financial documents. TDU members have lobbied in favor of this transparency provision.

The House version of the bill is similar, but includes the dangerous amendment that would allow cutbacks in accrued benefits.

Hoffa and Pension Reform

The International Union supports the pension bill, but also says “If… this bill turns out to be harmful to multi-employer funds, the Teamsters Union is committed to doing everything possible to defeat it.” (August Teamster Leader.)

The Hoffa administration has launched a major campaign with petitions, PR, and bulletins but never names a single item in the pension bill that they support or oppose. This secrecy makes it impossible for members to write or talk to their legislators, unless they just want to say “whatever Hoffa says, that’s right.” It’s hard to motivate Teamsters and retirees with that leadership.

What’s most dangerous is the Red Zone Amendment. A critically important protection won in 1984, the anti-cutback provision, should not be given up without a fight. Insiders in Washington report that UPS management is pushing this dangerous amendment, and we can see why. But we can’t see why our union would go along!

Pension Movement on the Move

The fight for pension justice for Teamsters and retirees continues to spread. Teamsters in the Central States, Western, Central Pennsylvania, New England and other plans are organizing and fighting back.

This month the focus is on Congress, but the longer term emphasis has to be on winning accountability and honesty out of our union pension trustees.

That is the battle that can and will be won.

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