February 28, 2003: “I’m planning to retire in three years. This will cost me $400 a month for the rest of my life.” That’s what a Colorado freight Teamster said when he heard about the drastic cutback coming down from the trustees of the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Fund.
Future Benefit Accruals Cut
In mid-January the fund imposed big cuts on future benefit accrual. They slashed the “multiplier” from 2.92 percent a year (or 2.2 percent for those with less than 20 years) down to 1.2 percent a year.
What does this mean for working Teamsters? The accrual cut taking effect July 1 will cut the benefits that each Teamster will accrue per year of continued work approximately in half. (See related article.)
The cuts do not affect pension amounts already earned, as that is illegal under federal law. The cuts affect pension accruals that Teamsters will earn in the years to come.
‘Why Would They Do This?’
That’s what we hear from members as they learn of the big cut.
The pension fund’s union trustees are not accountable to working and retired Teamsters. Many of them, including Chuck Mack, Jim Santangelo, Al Hobart, Ralph Taurone and Rome Aloise, enjoy extra officers-only pension plans which are not being cut.
“This was a deal made over lunch,” one West Coast officer told us. “Our union trustees didn’t bargain with the employers, they just went along with the employer trustees.”
The employer trustees insist on having the fund “fully funded,” which means that if every employer went broke tomorrow, the fund would have enough in the kitty ($23 billion) to pay all pension obligations, projected into the future.
The pensions of Teamsters planning to retire in the next several years are being sacrificed to have a better looking bottom-line for Safeway, UPS, Roadway and all the other employers.
Instead of simply reducing the multiplier to what has always been its base level of 2.65 percent (over 20 years) and 2 percent (under 20 years), they slashed it way down to 1.2 percent to maintain full funding.
Bottom Line Gets Lower
The 2/2.65 percent level is the historic bottom line multiplier for pensions in the West, and many Teamsters have been promised it would never go lower than this level. Now they are lowering pension accruals to half of this historic bottom line.
The excuse is the loss the fund has taken from stock investments in the past three years. Indeed, like all funds, they have had stock losses. But with some $23 billion in assets, and full funding, the fund could easily smooth out those short-term losses over a long period, rather than attacking Teamsters who have been told in writing by the fund not only that the multiplier is secure, but that also they would get a bonus level of pension accruals through 2005.
What Can We Do?
Make your voice heard. A movement is already starting to brew and is sure to grow in the West on this issue. The cuts can be rescinded, or modified, by the same people who made them – the fund trustees.
Members can make a difference, if we make our voice heard now, in an organized way. The first step is to get the word out. Coordinated action to reverse this decision will follow. webmaster [at] tdu.org (Contact TDU) to get involved now.