New England Teamsters Hit with Pension Cuts

July 27, 2005: Teamsters in New England reacted angrily when the New England Pension Fund announced new benefit restrictions—including eliminating 25-and-out and 30-and-out pensions before age 57.
The changes were announced on July 15, just two weeks after the fund announced that its assets grew for the second straight year. In all, the fund’s assets have grown by more than $429 million in the last two years.

The pension cuts come despite James Hoffa’s promises after he negotiated the “Best Contract Ever” at UPS—as well as after freight and carhaul negotiations—that members’ pension benefits would be secure for the life of these agreements.

New England pension accrual rates are frozen. New contracts will have to increase pension contributions by 5 percent per year to maintain the present rate of accrual.

The biggest cuts are in early retirement. If you do not have enough years of credit by July 31, 2005, you will not be eligible for 25- or 30-and-out until age 57. Members who do have 25 or 30 years of credited service, but are under age 57, are protected from the cuts by federal law and can get their earned pension.

UPS and other employers wanted the fund to make even more drastic cuts to members’ benefits, but union trustees refused.

No Grandfathering Protections
Unlike in the past, the changes did not include grandfathering provisions to protect Teamsters who are close to making their 25 or 30 years and were planning to retire soon. Members were given just two weeks notice of the changes.

TDU has received numerous reports of members’ retirement plans being thrown into chaos by the changes.

“I had planned to retire in November 2005 once I made my 30 ‘good years’ after 36 years as a Teamster,” said Dan Faust, a ready-mix driver from Local 42 in Lynn, Mass.

“Now my retirement has been put off for two more years until I turn 57. What really shocked me is they did not grandfather us in as they’ve done in the past. It’s wrong and cold.”

There’s an additional catch that punishes Teamsters with 25 years who continue working. Beginning July 31, these Teamsters will have their pension frozen until they reach age 57. So a Teamster who is 53 with 27 years credit, with an accrued pension of $2,300 per month, could work the next four years with zero pension improvement. Then, at 57, the pension would snap back to the full rate. But a member who has to retire before 57 because of injury or the closure of their company would work extra time for no additional benefit.

Making Members Work Longer
The fund notice said openly that the goal was to get members to work longer.

“I’ve had some of the union trustees on the fund tell me you really shouldn’t be looking to retire that early,” said Jack Reardon, a UPS feeder driver and vice president of Local 170 in Worcester, Mass. “That’s what I expect to hear from the company. You try driving for 25 or 30 years and then be told you need to spend several more years behind the wheel. It’s not right.

“We used to say, ‘When I hit 30 years, you can retire me but you can’t fire me.’ Well that’s out the door,” Reardon said. “I’ll have to work 36 years to be 57. Members are asking, ‘What did we do to deserve this?’ ”

While most Teamsters don’t retire before age 57 and will be hurt very little, many do retire early. Others are forced to because of company closures (including the Red Star victims) or health factors. These Teamsters are going to take the brunt of the imposed cuts.

Other Teamsters hit by the cuts are members who sacrificed wage increases in recent contract negotiations in order to get pension contributions high enough to maintain eligibility for special service pensions—for which they won’t qualify under the new rules.

That’s just what happened to approximately 900 bakery drivers covered by a recently negotiated regional agreement with Interstate Bakeries Corporation. These members took a two-year freeze in their commission rate in order to stay eligible for 25- and 30-and-out pensions.

That contract promise has been broken. But these Teamster drivers are not getting back their commission increases.

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