May 7, 2015: The Central States Pension Fund has decisively rejected a proposed deal between the Hoffa administration and the Kroger Co which would pull all Kroger Teamsters out of the fund, without even paying the required withdrawal penalty.
In a letter to the IBT and Kroger, Central States Director Thomas Nyhan pointedly reminds them that federal law requires cash payment of withdrawal liability before an employer can pull out of a union pension fund. The letter details the ways that the proposed deal violates the law, the fund’s Trust Agreement and the Plan Document.
Meanwhile, the IBT is proceeding with the plan to pull all Teamsters working for Kroger and Kroger contractors out of the pension fund. Votes are being taken on the national Kroger contract, covering warehouse operations in Houston, Memphis, Wichita, and dairies in Indiana and Michigan.
Many Teamsters see no alternative but to vote for the plan, in hopes of saving their hard-earned pension benefits. But as more than one Kroger Teamster has noted, pulling out of the union pension fund could be a first step in a plan to bust the Teamsters Union at Kroger.
The IBT’s proposed deal also covers Kroger third-party contractors who operate its distribution warehouses in Atlanta, Louisville, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, along with other Kroger operations. A detailed memorandum of agreement for these operations actually provides for the employer to pull out of the pension fund in mid-contract. Nyhan’s letter reminds the IBT that the pension fund cannot approve a contract which allows for a mid-contract pull-out.
Nyhan’s letter notes that the pension fund “cannot prevent an employer from withdrawing from the fund if the employer and union are determined to do so” and if the employer pays the withdrawal liability, estimated at $1 billion for Kroger. He seems to be reminding the IBT Warehouse Division and the Hoffa administration that defense of union pensions is a primary responsibility of union officers. At the very least, he is telling the IBT that giving a $1 billion gift to an employer while letting them gut the pension fund stinks.
How will the IBT and Kroger fix this deal? Stay tuned.
April 29, 2015: Today the Pension Rights Center presented a call for action to the US House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, calling for hearings on the devastating impact of pension cutbacks authorized by December 2014 changes in pension law.
Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the pension protection movement support this call, and will work to advance legislation to correct the injustices of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) passed in December.
The Subcommittee held a hearing on other aspects of pension law.
The Pension Rights statement concludes with a call for action: “We urge the Subcommittee to hold another hearing in the near future to listen to the concerns of the retirees and widows whose retirement security will be devastated by the cutbacks authorized by MPRA, to address their concerns, and to examine other ways of addressing the long-term financial problems of multiemployer plans and the PBGC.”
April 29, 2015. Teamsters and retirees have launched a petition campaign calling on the Central States Trustees and IBT President James Hoffa to support an independent actuarial audit of the Central States Pension Fund to determine the extent and necessity of pending benefit cuts.
Teamsters are demanding a “second opinion” with experts chosen by the pension protection committees across the region, prior to any rollout of the so-called “rescue plan” by the Fund. The “rescue plan” will propose to slash promised pensions for current and future retirees covered by the Central States.
You can help save pensions for Teamsters.
Click here to sign the online petition.
Click here to download a paper copy.
Circulate the petition at local union meetings, retirees clubs, and Teamster worksites.
April 24, 2015: The Hoffa administration is making a deal to let Kroger pull 7,000 Teamsters out of the Central States Pension Plan, and move them into a Kroger pension plan. Is Hoffa out to destroy the pension fund his father set-up, or does he just sign any deal the employer wants?
This disastrous move comes as the trustees of the Central States Plan are moving to cut the pensions of some 300,000 retirees and active Teamsters.
In early May the International union is going to vote a tentative agreement covering Kroger drivers and warehouse workers at distribution centers in Memphis, Houston, Wichita, and at dairies in Indianapolis and Detroit. The deal would pull the Teamsters out of the Teamster Central States Fund, and put them into a Kroger consolidated fund.
Even worse, the plan is to extend this disaster to Kroger’s five contractors who run warehouses and transportation in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Atlanta, and production facilities elsewhere.
How could this happen? Just two weeks ago at the big pension fund meeting in Chicago of local officers in the Central and Southern areas, the talk was to keep everyone in the plan: no more exit deals! But while that was being said, the Hoffa administration was cutting a deal with Kroger.
Reportedly officials of the Central States Fund are bitter and angry at this move by the International union. The Fund would get a withdrawal liability payment, reportedly in the range of $1 billion, but would lose a huge chunk of active participants. UPS paid $6 billion in withdrawal liability, but much of it was lost in the economic collapse, and now the fund suffers a loss of $800 million per year in missing UPS contributions.
The disastrous impact of the Hoffa-Hall deal to let UPS out of the plan doesn’t seem to have taught them anything. Their disregard for our members, retirees, and the future of our union is exceeded only by their willingness to give out corporate concessions.
Teamsters are up in arms over looming pension cuts that could slash the incomes of both current and future retirees—anyone under 80.
They’re battling trustees of the enormous Central States Pension Fund, which has said that cuts of up to 30 percent may be necessary, as soon as possible, to keep from running out of money. Those trustees represent both management and their international union.
At the same time, worker and retiree activists are also battling corporations bent on eliminating pensions altogether. The latest political blow came in December when Congress passed a bill, in the middle of the night, to allow cuts to certain already-earned pensions.
Bob Amsden drove a truck in Wisconsin for 33 years, over the road and local. He said he got involved because he “couldn’t believe they would do something like this to the people who built this country.
“We don’t contribute to their pockets, so they went after retirees. If they can beat us down, the rest will fall like putty.”
A dozen meetings around the Midwest and South over the last month have attracted 100 to 200 angry members apiece, as activists and local retiree clubs learn their benefits are in danger. The meetings are likely to grow in size and number: Central States has just sent out notices to every member warning that cuts are coming.
Committees have formed in Cleveland, Columbus, the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Memphis, and North Carolina. Activists are scheduling meetings with their Congresspeople and writing them letters, leafleting and raising questions at local union meetings and Teamster retiree clubs, and pestering the Teamsters International to do something.
An April 8 rally near Chicago, outside a meeting called by Central States officials to inform Teamster local officers, drew 150 members from eight states, including as far away as Georgia.
Amsden says the average Central States pension is $1,230 a month ($14,760 a year). “You take 30 percent of that away and what will they have to live on?” he asks.
Politicians say they don't want to pay for a “bailout” of the fund, but Amsden predicts, “They are going to bail us out one way or another. People who never expected any government assistance in their life, they’re going to have to go for food stamps.”
For those with decent pensions—some make $36,000 a year—the cuts could be as high as 65 percent, said Mike Walden, a 31-year Roadway driver who founded the northeast Ohio group.
Sue Cole, wife of a retired carhauler and a founder of the Teamsters Local 604 Pension Protection Committee in St. Louis, said, “They act like 30 or 40 percent is no big deal. Our feeling is that we worked for it. They mismanaged it, we didn’t. Why should we lose any portion of our pension?”
CAN THEY DO THAT?
Pensioners have counted on the fact that it was illegal to cut benefits for the already retired, thanks to the 1974 ERISA law. But last December Congress passed the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act—after heavy lobbying by Central States, which became the poster child for troubled pension funds.
The act was tacked onto the “Cromnibus” appropriations bill (which kept certain government functions from shutting down) to avoid debate and so that no Congresspeople had to take clear responsibility for it.
It created a new category of multi-employer pension fund: “critical and declining.” If a fund is projected to run out of money in 15 to 20 years, its trustees now have the right to cut benefits, after a vote of the beneficiaries.
Anti-cuts activists point out that, because the stock market is doing well, the Fund is actually richer now than it was at the end of 2008, after the financial meltdown. It has $18 billion in assets, versus $17.3 billion then. Such gains aren’t likely in the future, but the Fund’s current relative health is reason enough, they say, to slow down and take a look at other possible solutions.
Walden spoke scornfully of Thomas Nyhan, who, he points out, made $662,000 in 2013 as executive director of Central States: “In his letter to people April 8 he said he’s sorry he can’t find an easier solution. I agree, there’s nothing easier than just cutting our pensions. Don’t do anything that might require thinking.”
The committees are gathering petitions demanding that the Fund seek a “second opinion,” an independent audit of its actuarial and financial status.
“We know it’s in trouble and will run out if no steps are taken,” says Ken Paff of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which is backing the retirees’ movement. “But how did they determine that it has 11 years till it runs out? I used their figures and I got 17. Let the members see behind the curtain.”
The Teamsters pension movement has joined the Pension Rights Center, the AARP, and some unions to support a soon-to-be-introduced bill to delay or repeal the cuts and back up troubled plans.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin wrote to the committee in her state, “I refuse to force beneficiaries to be singled out as the first to sacrifice in the reform... If you are going to take the extraordinary measure to change long-standing ERISA laws on benefit cuts, then all the reforms need to be made at once so that everyone is putting skin in the game simultaneously.”
Under the law, both retirees and active workers get to vote on any cuts—but a failure to vote counts as a “yes,” and in a big fund like Central States, the Secretary of the Treasury can override a “no” vote and impose the cuts anyway.
The law requires arguments on both sides to appear in the ballot mailing, but with five statements in favor of swallowing the cuts and just one against.
Nonetheless, assuming the Fund opts for draconian cuts, activists will campaign hard for a “no” vote. “We call it social disruption,” Amsden said. “We’re doing a media blitz. We have 11 committees throughout the Midwest; they’re all forming Facebook pages.” In March his group made the front page of Milwaukee’s daily paper.
They expect the Fund to tell members the exact amounts of the proposed cuts this summer, and to hold a vote in early fall. “We’re going to ride the pony till it dies,” Cole said. “We are going to say no because we aren’t guaranteed they won’t come back in another year and ask for more.”
VOTING ON THE PERPS
Pensions will certainly be an issue in the 2016 election for top Teamster officers, as President James Hoffa and his officers back the cuts and challengers Tim Sylvester and Fred Zuckerman blame Hoffa for the decline of the Fund.
In the last officers’ election only 300,000 of the 1.3 million Teamsters voted, with two challengers receiving a combined 41 percent of the vote. So the 65,000 working Central States Teamsters could prove a formidable voting bloc.
The officers sometimes try to have it both ways. At the April 8 Chicago rally against the cuts, International Vice President John Murphy showed up to praise the demonstrators and claim Hoffa was on their side. Meanwhile, inside the Central States meeting, international representatives were telling local officers the cuts were mandatory.
Walden says his many calls to Teamster headquarters have gone unreturned. “As far as transparency and communication, they’re avoiding us,” he said.
The single biggest reason Central States is in trouble is that the international union allowed UPS, by far the largest employer of Teamsters, to leave the fund in 2008. The Fund’s annual income would be about double if 45,000 UPS workers in those states were still members.
But Hoffa let UPS out, in return for the company’s letting him organize 13,000 workers at a new subsidiary, UPS Freight. Those workers now have a union contract—but with an inferior pension.
April 21, 2015: Central States retirees in the growing pension movement are calling on the appointed “Retiree Representative” to be a genuine independent voice. By law, the Central States Pension Fund had to designate a retiree to act as an advocate, at least 60 days before submitting any plan to cut pensions. But as this letter from one pension movement leader says, retirees want “an advocate, not a messenger.”
Retirees are calling on Sue Mauren, who was appointed by the trustees of the plan to take some immediate steps:
- Make public what independent legal counsel and actuarial consultants she has retained (as provided in the law), to issue a true “second opinion”, not just an echo of the trustees.
- Meet with the various “Save our Pension” committees from the various states, starting with the committee in Minnesota, Mauren’s own back yard, to discuss options.
- Make information available to trustees, which is denied by the fund, as requested by the various committees.
Mauren could be a valuable advocate, with the resources at her disposal. Or she could be an appendage of those who have lied and covered-up. Retirees hope it will be the former, and offer their help to her in that process.
April 15, 2015: Central States Pension Fund Director is giving the hard sell on his fast-track pension cuts, but withholding all the information members need to formulate alternatives.
He states the plan will go broke in exactly 11 years, and says we cannot question his facts. Where does he get this figure? And why hasn’t it changed as the fund’s assets have gone up?
Taking the fund’s current level of employer contributions and benefit pay-out, and the fund’s standard assumption of 8% average return on investment, it would be 17 years (2032) before the fund would go insolvent, according to Chart #1 below.
That’s still a disaster which we cannot let happen, but it is more evidence that we want a full review by independent actuaries and experts of our fund.
Nyhan, in a speech to officials in Rosemont Illinois on April 8, suddenly “moved the goalposts” to change the CSPF’s projected return from its long-standing policy of 8% per year to 7% per year. So we prepared Chart #2 using a 7% assumption for investment returns—this leads to a projected insolvency in 15 years.
Of course, these charts cannot begin to capture the complexity of the pension fund, but they do indicate why an independent review is needed. How did Nyhan and the Trustees make up the 11 year figure?
We’d all like to see all the facts and assumptions behind the curtain, and have a chance to come up with alternatives. Members and retirees deserve no less.
Chart #1: Central States Fund Potential Decline
Assumption: Employer contributions do not increase, pension benefits are not cut, the same management is in place, and the CSPF’s policy assumption of 8% per year average return on investment. (Actually, benefit payments will likely decline as benefit cuts of recent years take hold.)
Chart #2: Central States Fund Potential Decline – with modified assumption of only 7% average return on investment.
We cannot allow anything like this to happen. But where did Nyhan cook up the 11 year claim? We demand a review.
April 15, 2015: The Central States Pension Fund has launched a PR offensive to sell their fast-track pension cut plan as the only way to “rescue” members’ retirement. Teamster members and retirees are demanding a review by independent actuaries and consideration of alternative proposals before the cuts are imposed.
Central States Director Thomas Nyhan pitched his plan in a letter and national conference call, calling for deep cuts on a fast track with no amendments permitted.
Nyhan’s conference call was scripted from start-to-finish. The “question-and-answer” segment consisted of softball questions with pre-scripted answers.
“We just got a rehash of what we already know,” said Dave Scheidt, a retiree from Kansas City Local 41. “We’re paying Nyhan $662,000 a year for that? He needs to go.”
“Nyhan said that some will tell you that there are easier solutions, but there are not. He's right, that's the easiest way --just cut pensions!” said Mike Walden, chair of the Northeast Ohio Committee to Protect Pensions. “We need a real look at all the alternatives.”
Teamster members and retirees are calling for an independent review of the fund that evaluates possible alternatives to Nyhan’s pension demolition plan.
The Save Our Pensions movement is growing and organizing meetings to inform Teamsters and build grassroots pressure to win changes to the Nyhan plan.
Why is an independent review necessary?
Even if you have a good doctor, it’s wise to get a second opinion before undertaking a serious operation. In this case, the pensions of 400,000 Teamsters and retirees are going under the knife.
Under the law, Teamsters are entitled to a retiree representative to the Fund to watchdog for their interests during the pension cut process. But Central States appointed Sue Mauren to be the fund’s retiree representative—a retired official with multiple pensions and close ties to the Hoffa administration. That doesn’t cut it.
Independent actuarial experts could safeguard participants’ interests by evaluating the fund and analyzing alternatives to Nyhan’s Fast-Track plan.
Is there really time for an independent review? Nyhan says there is no time to delay.
Of course, decisive action is required: the fund is in trouble. But the numbers do not justify a rush to judgement—not when the retirement of 400,000 Teamsters who earned their pensions is on the line.
The Fund is not on the brink of bankruptcy. Its assets have actually grown over the past six years. The Fund had $18 billion in assets on September 30, compared to $17.3 billion at the end of 2008 when Wall Street crashed the economy.
Nyhan claims the Fund will go broke in 11 years—but these charts, based on assumptions used by the fund, show that it would actually be closer to 17 years. We cannot allow Central States to go broke at any time, but it is more evidence of why a full review by independent actuaries is needed.
What is Hoffa doing to protect our pensions?
Hoffa was not on the call, nor were any International Union officers. Vice President John Murphy showed up at the Save Our Pensions rally to glad hand the crowd and told people he was “sent by the General President to support what they are doing” and that Hoffa will “fight for the repeal” of the MRPA pension cut law.
If that’s the case, why are Teamster Trustees and International Officers lining up in favor of the Central States cuts? Nyhan has repeatedly stated that all the trustees, including the Union Trustees, support his pension cut plan and his schedule which allows for no amendments.
What Can We Do?
The Save Our Pensions movement is growing and organizing meetings to inform Teamsters and build grassroots pressure to win changes to the Nyhan plan.
We are building a united movement with AARP, other unions, the Pension Rights Center and public allies to support a pension relief bill that will soon be introduced in Congress.
We worked our whole lives for our pensions—now we are working together to defend them.
Sue Mauren was a Teamster employed at the University of Minnesota. She participated in a pension plan run by the university, and was not a participant in the Central States Fund (CSPF) She became a Teamster around 1980 and continued till the early 1990s, when she was hired as a business agent.
Mauren was hired as a business agent in the early 1990s by the leaders of Local 320. The officers of Local 320 were removed for corruption by the Independent Review Board (IRB) in the mid-1990s, and the local was placed into trusteeship. Mauren was not implicated in the corrupt schemes, and retained her position as a BA.
No working members of Local 320 participate in the CSPF. They are all public employees. Thus Mauren did not negotiate or administer any contracts covering CSPF participants.
Later, Mauren was elected and re-elected as the secretary treasurer of Minnesota Local 320. As a BA and full time officer of the union, she became a participant in the CSPF, by virtue of her office, until she retired in 2012.
Mauren had other pension and lump-sum retirement plans as well:
- She retained rights to her pension credits earned at the University of Minnesota.
- As an officer of Local 320, she benefited from the Joint Council 32 plan, which is only for officers and agents; it paid a sizable lump sum upon her retirement.
- As an officer of Local 320, she enjoyed a matching 401k plan, with contributions from her and matching sums from the Local 320 treasury.
- As a BA and later the secretary treasurer of Local 320, she earned about 20 credited years in the Central States Fund.
Mauren received three union salaries: from the local, from the joint council, and an extra $40,000 per year from the International union. She was very close to the Hoffa leadership. Her brother-in-law, Jeff Farmer, was appointed Organizing Director of the IBT by Hoffa.
Thus sister Mauren is a participant in the CSPF, but unlike most participants, she has enjoyed additional pensions and lump-sums.
April 14, 2015: Under the banner of “Save Our Pensions”, 175 Minnesota Teamsters and retirees met on April 11 in St. Paul to get the facts and build the movement to save pensions. A surprise guest, Minnesota Congressman Rick Nolan, declared his support for repealing the pension-cut law and replacing it with a fair solution.
The Save Our Pensions Committee called the meeting, and greatly expanded its working committee as a result of it. More meetings are planned in the Midwest, South, and in North Carolina, as the movement spreads.
In addition to backing a bill to be introduced in Congress, the meeting discussed outreach to involve both retirees and active Teamsters, and to build for a strong No vote on the cuts. The vote, which is expected by late summer, will be a way to gain bargaining power for the movement. The law allows the vote to be overruled, but a strong No vote is essential for credibility in Washington and in the union.
Speakers at the Minnesota meeting included Mike Walden, the chair of the Northeast Ohio Committee to Protect Pensions, Karen Friedman, Policy Director of the Pension Rights Center in Washington DC, and Ken Paff, National Organizer of Teamsters for a Democratic Union. But the stars were the retirees and Teamsters who continue to build the momentum we need.