The new is not all good. The restrictions on 25-and-out and 30-and-out pensions before age 57 remain in place. New England Teamsters who did not have enough years of credit by July 31, 2005 will not be eligible for 25- or 30-and-out until age 57. Unlike in the past, the changes did not include grandfathering provisions to protect Teamsters who were close to making their 25 or 30 years and were planning to retire soon. Members are calling for the fund trustees to grandfather existing negotiated promises. Teamsters who were close to qualifying under the old rules should have their contracts honored.
Change #1: No Punishment for Continuing to Work
Under the original changes, Teamsters with 25 years who continued working after July 31 would have their pension frozen until they reach age 57. Then, at 57, the pension would snap back to the full rate. A member who had to retire before 57 because of injury or the closure of their company would get no additional benefit for their extra time worked.
The Trustees have now eliminated this “Snap Back” provision. If, and only if, you had 25 years on July 31 and were eligible for a special service benefit, then you will continue to earn the additional $150 per year and be eligible to retire at any age.
Change #2: Honoring Promises in Existing Contracts
Under the original cuts, Teamsters would have suffered a reduction in their pension accrual if they were covered by contracts that did not include annual increases in their pension contributions of 5 percent. This would have meant pension cuts for many New England Teamsters covered under multi-year contracts that were negotiated before the pension rules were changed.
The Pension Fund Trustees have backed off of this unreasonable rule. Now, the Pension Fund will honor all existing contracts by maintaining the accrual rate. When these contracts expire, the new contracts must include increased pension contributions of 5 percent a year to maintain the accrual rate.
Pension Reform, Accountability Needed
Both of the reforms to the original cuts address problems that were first reported by TDU. It remains to be seen whether membership pressure can convince the Trustees to introduce stronger grandfathering provisions that will protect Teamsters who were planning to retire under the old rules.
Teamster members and officers won these improvements by putting pressure on the Pension Fund Trustees. This is an example of how our union trustees on the pension fund are indirectly accountable if we apply enough heat. What is really needed is direct accountability.
The New England pension cuts show the need for us to elect delegates to the 2006 Teamster Convention who will back reforms to the Teamster Constitution to hold benefit fund trustees directly accountable to Teamster members–and to support candidates for International office who will defend our pensions from attacks by the employers and corporate politicians.
February 17, 2005: Boston Local 25 President Ritchie Reardon told Joint Council 10 that the IBT Parcel Division approved a mid-contract giveback to UPS that violates language in the New England supplement. Reardon’s statement was part of his testimony in a hearing on internal union charges over the concession. The testimony marks the first time that anyone has put on the record that the IBT approved the contract concession. Reardon said the approval was not issued in writing.
Sunday to Thursday Without Premium Pay
Local 25 negotiated a side agreement with UPS management, after the company threatened to move some jobs, that allowed the company to establish a Sunday to Thursday workweek with no premium pay for Sundays. The New England supplement recognizes only a Monday to Friday or a Tuesday to Saturday workweek. The UPS contract requires that all mid-contract agreements be approved by the Joint National Negotiating Committee.
The giveback quickly spread to locals 42, 191, 340 and 671.
Other local unions voted the giveback down or refused to hold a vote—even though UPS threatened some locals that they would lose work if they did so.
Members have argued that the change to the regional supplement should have been put to a regional vote—rather than allowing UPS to pit local against local for the best deal.
The impact of this giveback continues to be felt. Recently UPS management at the Worcester hub posted a notice stating that the a.m. sort would be shut down and that the volume would be “moved to other hubs.” Worcester Local 170 was one of the locals that resisted the side agreement.
If the IBT and all New England locals had stayed united it would be impossible for management to pit members against each other in this manner.
A lawsuit filed by members to reverse the concession was dismissed on a technicality Jan. 13. The judge hearing the case ruled that the suit needed to be filed within six months of the change at Local 25, rather than within six months of the date that Local 25 refused to process members’ grievance against the change.
According to Local 25 member David Whitney, the New England Supplement Protection Committee will continue pursuing the issue through charges that are under investigation at the National Labor Relations Board. Also, internal union charges have been filed against officials of all the local unions that made the change without a proper vote of the members
January 28, 2005: On December 9 Judge James B Moran directed the trustees of the Teamster Central States Pension Fund to turn more documents over to participants in the fund. The decision expands an October 21 victory won by Teamster members in Locals 638, 391 and 20.
Central States has now been ordered to reveal quarterly reports, along with financial and actuarial supplementary attachments, from August of 2000 up till the present, and into the future. The information will help members see just what should have been done, and what can be done now, and who is responsible for the drastic cuts the trustees imposed on members and retirees.
“It’s a great victory. Hopefully when we get these documents we can get an expert evaluation of the situation,” commented Tommy Burke, a UPS driver in Local 391 who is one of the intervenors in court. “I want to thank our attorney, Paul Levy, for his good work.”
The trustees are apparently considering whether to appeal, to try to continue to hide from the Teamster membership.
Teamster Website False
The Teamster website, in a “Central States Update” contains false information on the situation. First, it states the court only ordered that two reports be revealed. The truth is that the court ordered that many reports be turned over, along with additional separate financial attachments. Central States is stalling on many of them. Second, the International claims that Public Citizen Litigation Group took the action; in truth, Public Citizen represents Teamster members who are long time fund participants. Third, the International says the reports contain “little new information.” This statement is interesting, and was immediately reported to Judge Moran by the members’ attorney, because in court the International’s trustees claim the exact opposite: that vital secret information will be revealed. The same false statements are posted on the Central States site.
TDU, the Central States Pension Improvement Committee and concerned members and local officers will continue the fight for pension justice. This is one more victory in a long march toward that goal.
Yet for nearly half a million union members who are expecting the fund to pay for their retirement, those may have been the good old days.
Since 1982, under a consent decree with the federal government, the fund has been run by prominent Wall Street firms and monitored by a federal court and the Labor Department. There have been no more shadowy investments, no more loans to crime bosses. Yet in these expert hands, the aging fund has fallen into greater financial peril than when James R. Hoffa, who built the Teamsters into a national power, used it as a slush fund.
The unfolding situation holds a hard lesson for others with responsibility for retirement money. What may appear as a sensible, conventional approach to investing - seeking a diversified mix of growth and income investments for the long term - can wreak havoc when applied to a pension fund, especially one in a dying industry with older members who are about to make demands of it.
But the kinds of investments that make sense for such a fund - like long-term bonds that will mature as members enter retirement - are not attractive to most money managers, because they generate few fees. Consequently, very few pension funds use such strategies today.
At the end of 2002, the pension fund had 60 cents for every dollar owed to present and future retirees - a dangerous level. In a rough comparison, the pension fund for US Airways' pilots had 74 cents for every dollar it owed in December 2002, just before it defaulted. During the bear market after the technology bubble burst, Central States' assets lost value as its obligations to retirees ballooned, causing a mismatch so severe that the fund had to reduce benefits last winter for the first time in its 49-year history.
"There never were benefit cuts in the 1970's," said Wayne Seale, 52, a long-haul driver from Houston and one of about 460,000 Teamsters participating in the fund. "We were happy. We were being taken care of."
If the pension fund fails, it will be taken over by a government insurance program. In that case, some Teamsters would lose benefits.
Hoffa and his successors had put an extraordinary 80 percent of Central States' money into real estate. Instead of hotels, casinos and resorts, its new managers - first Morgan Stanley and later Bankers Trust, Goldman Sachs and J. P. Morgan - invested the money mostly in stocks, and to a lesser extent, in bonds. At the end of 2002, about 54 percent of the fund's assets were in stocks, somewhat less than the average corporate pension fund, which had about 74 percent of assets in stocks that year, according to Greenwich Associates, a research and consulting firm.
Federal law calls for fiduciaries to invest pension assets the way a "prudent man" would, and the strategy used for Central States would certainly be familiar to wealthy individuals, philanthropic trusts, university endowments and other pension funds. The fund's investment results in recent years closely track median annual returns for corporate pension funds, according to Mercer Investment Consulting.
The assets lost 4.5 percent of their value in 2001 and 10.9 percent in 2002, but gained 25.5 percent in 2003, according to the fund's executive director and general counsel, Thomas C. Nyhan.
Morgan Stanley and J. P. Morgan declined to comment. Goldman Sachs defended its record, pointing out that it had exceeded its benchmarks in a very tough market.
But the Central States situation shows that using stocks or other volatile assets to secure the obligations of a mature pension fund greatly increases the risk of getting caught short-handed in a down market. If that happens it can be nearly impossible to bring the ailing pension fund back. This is what has happened recently to pension funds at United Airlines and US Airways.
"Stocks are not a hedge against long-term fixed liabilities," said Zvi Bodie, a finance professor at BostonUniversity who has long challenged conventional pension investment strategies. "For many, many years, right down to the present day, the dominant belief among pension investment people is fundamentally wrong. Now that's a big problem."
The record of a second big Teamsters' pension fund, covering members in the West, bolsters Mr. Bodie's arguments. The Western Conference of Teamsters fund has long shunned stocks and uses a totally different investment approach, a portfolio of 20- and 30-year Treasury bonds and other high-grade fixed-income securities that are scheduled to make payments when its retirees will be claiming their money. The Western Conference pension fund was not perceptibly hurt by the bear market.
If the Central States were a younger pension fund, it could wait for the stock market to improve and bolster its value. But it already has more than 200,000 retirees collecting benefits of more than $2 billion a year.
The companies that employ its members currently put in about $1 billion a year. Its trustees, made up of union officials and company representatives in equal numbers, have contemplated raising employer contributions, but the unionized trucking sector has financial problems, and for many companies a higher contribution would be a hardship. The biggest and wealthiest participating company, United Parcel Service, has been trying to leave the pension fund altogether.
The unionized trucking industry was more stable before deregulation in 1979, and so was the Central States pension fund. In the 1970's, the fund's assets grew by as much as 10 percent a year, according to some media reports from that period. Luck played a big part in that success, because the decade was a bad one for stocks and bonds. Thus, the fund made better returns on its unorthodox real estate portfolio than it would have on a conventional mix of investments. The unionized trucking sector was younger, too. And it was growing, so there was more money available from employees and fewer pensions coming due.
Starting in the early 1960's, the fund loaned tens of millions of dollars for investments in Las Vegas casinos, including the Desert Inn, CaesarsPalace, Stardust, Circus Circus, the Landmark Hotel and the Aladdin Hotel, according to a history by Edwin H. Stier, a former federal prosecutor hired by the union as part of its efforts to clean house.
The loans in those days typically involved a front man who signed the papers and a crime family raking off cash behind the scenes. The loan approval process involved kickbacks, threats and, in at least one case, a kidnapping. By the time Hoffa disappeared in 1975, the Central States pension fund had loaned an estimated $600 million to people connected with organized crime, according to Mr. Stier, who resigned his union appointment in April after questioning the union's ongoing commitment to rooting out corruption.
But many of the loans did serve their intended purpose, making money to pay for Teamsters' retirement benefits. The hotels, casinos and other real estate projects, not all of which were connected to organized crime, were generally profitable, according to Mr. Stier, and before his disappearance Hoffa saw to it that his loans were repaid.
By 1977, after years of indictments, prosecutions, Congressional hearings and murders, federal regulators pressured the Central States trustees to resign and turn over the fund's assets to an independent money manager. The 1982 consent decree reduced the trustees' powers permanently, requiring the pension fund to choose an outside fiduciary from America's largest 20 banks, insurance companies and investment advisory firms.
The first to be named fiduciary was Morgan Stanley. Its duties were to pick money managers, to allocate the assets among them and to advise the new board of trustees on investment objectives and strategies.
As it happened, Morgan Stanley got the Central States mandate at a time of explosive growth in the money-management business. A landmark pension reform law had been passed in 1974, requiring all companies to set aside enough money to make good on their pension promises. With assets piling up in trust funds as a result, money managers were competing fiercely for a piece of the business.
Money managers promised pension funds big returns, and to get the big returns they began to add riskier assets to pension portfolios than pension funds had used before. Sleepy bond portfolios were livened up with stocks. Venture capital, junk bonds, securities of companies in developing countries and other exotica began to appear in pension funds.
These investments could be risky, but the industry argued that losses, even big losses, in one year did not matter because a pension fund was a long-term proposition; over time, the losses would be recouped by even bigger gains. Buoyant markets reinforced this thinking in the 1990's, even though by then unionized trucking was in deep decline, and the Central States' ratio of active workers to pensioners was shifting perilously.
Records for the Central States pension fund are not complete, but they indicate that Morgan Stanley kept pace with industry trends, shifting the fund into stocks, particularly international stocks.
By 1997, more than one-third of the pension fund's assets were invested abroad, records show, far more than the norm for such funds. Greenwich Associates surveyed union pension funds in 2003 and found that international equities made up less than 3 percent of their total assets.
A spokesman for Morgan Stanley declined to comment on the Central States investments, citing a policy of not discussing relationships with past clients. He pointed out, however, that international stocks did relatively well in the late 1990's.
Morgan Stanley was replaced as fiduciary by Goldman Sachs and J. P. Morgan in 1999 and 2000. (Bankers Trust served as fiduciary very briefly.) A spokesman for Goldman Sachs noted that his company inherited many of Morgan Stanley's investments and added, "Over the five years we have managed the fund, our performance has exceeded the relevant benchmarks." A spokeswoman for J. P. Morgan cited a policy of not discussing clients' business.
When the stock market crashed in 2000, the Central States pension fund had big bets on technology and telecommunication stocks, energy trading companies and foreign stocks. Some of these stocks became nearly worthless. But the resulting carnage was not apparent to many rank-and-file Teamsters until last winter, when plan officials announced that benefits would have to be curtailed.
Meanwhile, drivers were making their retirement plans.
Tommy Burke, a U.P.S. driver in Fayetteville, N.C., had been planning to retire in 2005, when he would turn 60, and go into the restaurant business. But when the pension fund reduced benefit accruals, it also began enforcing a rule that pensioners could not re-enter the work force, under penalty of having their pensions stopped. Mr. Burke, frustrated, began to research the pension fund on his own, trying to learn just what had happened. In an annual report for the plan, he was shocked to see a reference to a $77 million uncollectible loan.
"How in the world can you have an unsecured loan in the amount of $77 million?" he asked.
When an official of the pension fund visited his union local hall this year, Mr. Burke put that question to him, but the answer only upset Mr. Burke more.
"He said it wasn't a loan at all," Mr. Burke recalled. "It was shares of stock in a bank in Russia, and it went belly up." Mr. Burke said he didn't understand why pension money had been used to buy something so risky, if the Labor Department and federal court officials were monitoring the pension fund.
The Labor Department does not generally regulate investment strategy, however. It was watching for signs of self-dealing, racketeering or other flagrant abuse. From that perspective, the fund was progressing well.
Some Teamsters say more complete answers lie in the official progress reports for the pension fund, maintained for the federal courts as required by the consent decree. But those are secret. The New York Times and the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a reform group within the union, have filed motions with the federal district court in Chicago to make the documents public.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is legally separate from the pension fund, commissioned independent investment and actuarial analyses of the pension fund in November 2002.
But the study's findings have not been released to the membership.
Many rank-and-file Teamsters complain that their questions about the pension fund have been met with bromides about unforeseeable market forces, and about an unusual convergence of stock market losses and low interest rates that is always described as "the perfect storm." They are unconvinced.
"If this was all about the stock market and this 'perfect storm,' why weren't all these funds affected the same way?" asked Pete Landon, a truck driver from Detroit who participates in the pension fund.
The best clues may lie in the Western Conference of Teamsters pension fund. In the 1980's, when the Central States plan was shifting from real estate into stocks, the Western Conference trustees, acting on actuarial projections of future pension benefits, put together its conservative portfolio of high-quality bonds and other fixed-income securities. The bonds were held until they matured.
Such an investment portfolio requires little stock research or trading and consequently generates little fee revenue for money managers, but it has served the Western Conference of Teamsters well. From 2000 to the end of 2002, when the Central States fund lost $2.8 billion, the Western Conference fund gained $834 million.
"I think the most prudent, most basic pension funding theory would be: You put aside assets today to most precisely meet your obligations in the future," said Edward A. H. Siedle, a Florida lawyer who specializes in pension fund audits. "You do not try to beat the market. You do not try to maximize returns. But in this country, the plan sponsor doesn't want to do that. The corporation wants to put the minimum aside today, and invest it with maximum efficiency. That's the trouble."
November 4, 2004: Teamster members have been pushing for trustees to protect pension benefits, and to win higher employer contributions to make up for the stock market downfall following September 11.
Finally, a group of pension trustees has heeded the call. The trustees of the New Jersey Joint Council 73 Pension Fund responded to their funding shortfall by forcing contributing employers to double their contributions to avert a benefit cut.
But the JC 73 Pension Fund is for local union officials and staff only. Doubling the size of the “employer” contributions means that local unions will be sending twice as much of the members’ dues money as before to fund their officials’ pensions.
The amount of members’ dues that local unions are now paying into this extra pension plan is equal to 20% of the total gross salaries of all employees and officials! That’s a lot of money that could be used for organizing or to build Teamster power.
For some local clerical staff, the JC 73 plan is their only pension. But for the vast majority of the fund’s participants—local union officials—the JC 73 pension is a second (or even third) pension. The plan also features a generous lump sum payment option.
It’s good to know that at least somewhere in our union, fund trustees are going the extra mile to avoid pension cuts. Now wouldn’t it be nice if some trustees would do the same for the rank and file—say out West and in the Central States?
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.
February 27,2003: In the Western Conference Pension Plan, each year you work, and your employer makes contributions to the plan, your pension benefit grows. The amount it grows is easy to calculate, once you know these facts:
- What does your employer contribute, per hour, as specified in your contract;
- How many credited hours did you have for the year (many contracts do not include overtime hours, and have a 2,080 limit);
- Are you covered by “PEER 80” or 82 or 84 early retirement?
- How many years have you been in the pension plan (more or less than 20)?
- What is the multiplier that the pension fund is applying for that year? This last point is where the big pension cut comes in.
Example: Your contract provides for $3.90 per hour employer pension contributions. You are covered by PEER 80. You were credited with 2,000 hours for the year. You’ve worked under the plan for 22 years.
2,000 hours times $3.90 equals $7,800 paid into the fund on your behalf. But you must buy your PEER 80 by reducing this amount by 16.5 percent. That leaves $6,695. Now, you simply multiply that by the multiplier to get your pension benefit raise for the year. If the multiplier is 2.65 percent, the historic base level, you would get $173 added to your monthly pension benefit for a year’s work. But, with the big cut down to 1.2 percent, you will get only $78 added to your monthly pension. That’s a huge cut in your pension benefits.
November 5, 2002: The Central States Pension Fund, in a bulletin to all local unions dated November 2002, has finally made a comment on the sudden removal of Ronald Kubalanza as director. He was replaced on Oct. 16 by Thomas Nyhan, the fund’s general counsel. Unfortunately, the statement gives no reason for Kubalanza’s removal, so it raises more questions than answers.
The bulletin goes on to state that reports that initially appeared in Traffic World of three union trustees stepping down are exaggerated. The fund reports that Ray Cash is stepping down as one of the five union trustees, and that Phil Young has temporarily vacated his seat. They report Young will come back as a trustee, assuming Cash’s position, effective March 31, 2003. Fred Gegare has been appointed to fill the vacant trustee position.
Members deserve answers regarding why the long-time director of the fund was suddenly removed. Lacking honest answers, rumors will continue to spread.
International Union to Issue Report
On Nov. 12 the International Union announced they would retain two firms to perform an independent assessment of the actuarial condition of the Central States Fund. The announcement is clearly timed to try to derail the growing movement of Teamsters demanding pension improvements and relief from unjust re-employment rules.
In fact, the general counsel of the International, Patrick Szymanski, told the St. Louis Dispatch on Nov. 18, “We’re concerned about how hard the union should push for increased pensions, given increased contributions (from employers).” Szymanski, whose firm is paid millions of dollars per year by our union, seems to know the result of their “study” in advance: no pension increases for members. He didn’t publicly comment on the re-employment rule or the increases in payments for retiree health care.
The Central States Fund — like almost all pension plans — has lost assets with the decline of the stock market in recent years.
The officers-only pension plan that covers all International officials and top staff, including Hoffa, Phil Young, (and yes, their attorneys) has no re-employment restrictions whatsoever. It is very much more generous than the Central States Fund, and its benefits go up every time salaries go up, which is every year. It also provides free health benefits for life.
The International Union says the study should be completed early in 2003. We urge them to release the entire study – which members are paying for – not just press releases.
Class Action Lawsuit to Challenge Reemployment Rule
Local Unions Speak Out On Pensions
July 15, 2002: The pressure is on! The Central Pennsylvania Teamster Pension Reform Committee is a force that will not be denied. Through lawsuits, mass meetings, media exposure, petitions, contact with influential public officials and regulatory agencies, tough questioning at union meetings and membership education, the committee has created a situation where the Teamsters, from Hoffa on down, have to deal with their critical pension problem.
For Teamsters in the Central Pennsylvania pension plan, any pension credits they have accrued prior to 1987 are in a defined benefits (DB) plan. Since 1987, the benefits are in a defined contribution (RIP) plan. When the switch was made all participants were assured by the fund trustees that the old DB plan was fully funded. The trustees were dead wrong. The old DB plan is anywhere between $103 and $160 million underfunded, with no additional revenues coming into it.
To make matters worse the trustees have botched up investments in good times and in bad. They are completely discredited in the eyes of the rank and file.
How to make up the money they need for the DB fund? The trustees have an idea — a bad one. Rather than going after the companies, they want to take from 20 to 35 percent, depending on age and years of service, of the pension contributions paid on behalf of fund participants under the age of 51 and divert that RIP money into the old DB plan to make up the deficit. Since the legality of such a move (taking one person’s guaranteed pension money and giving it to someone else) is highly dubious, this money is being held in an escrow account for the time being.
Facing a rank and file revolt, the Hoffa administration is pressing the Upstate New York pension fund to take the fund over. A formal proposal from the Upstate New York plan is expected within weeks. The Reform Committee, which has recently held mass meetings in Milton, Scranton and Harrisburg and has another scheduled for Reading, vows to carefully scrutinize the Upstate New York proposal.
July 15, 2002: Many Teamsters rely on their pension benefits to provide for a secure retirement. But recent events like the crisis in the Central Pennsylvania Teamsters Pension Fund and health benefit rollbacks in the Central States and New England funds (see related stories) have Teamsters asking a lot of questions about the security of those benefits.
This article answers some frequently-asked questions about our Teamster benefits. Please note that these answers are only general guidelines, and each pension plan is different. If you have a specific question about your plan, webmaster [at] tdu.org (contact TDU).
What are the different kinds of Teamster pensions?
Teamsters are generally covered by two types of pension plans: defined benefit and defined contribution.
With a defined benefit plan, your retirement benefit is a guaranteed amount, linked to your age and/or the number of years for which your employer has made contributions to the pension fund on your behalf (known as years of contributory credit). For example, Central States fund participants get $2,500 per month with 25 years of contributory credit at age 57. In the West, benefits are based on a PEER system, where you become eligible once your age and years of contributory credit add up to a certain number, currently 80. Many plans now also offer retirement benefits linked solely to years of contributory credit, like the 25-and-out benefit in the Central States.
With a defined contribution plan, your employer contributions are held in an account and invested by the fund on your behalf until you retire. Your benefit is based on how much money has accumulated in your account. Depending on how your money has been invested and what the economy is like when you retire, your benefit level can vary quite substantially.
Employers generally prefer defined contribution plans, as they pass the risk for your retirement on to you. If the stock market dips a few months before you retire, or if the plan administrators mismanage the fund (as in the case of the Central Pennsylvania fund) your employer has no responsibility for making up for the shortfall.
How can our pension plan trustees be held accountable?
This depends on whether your plan is a single company plan or a multi-employer plan which is jointly managed by an equal number of union and company trustees.
If you are covered by a company plan, your plan is controlled by the company, which makes it easier for the company to use your money for their own interests, and harder for you to do anything about it. That’s why UPS tries to get Teamsters into their company plan.
Multi-employer plans are jointly controlled by the companies and the union, which allows for more member accountability.. Union trustees of most smaller Teamster pension plans are usually officers of the local union. But in larger plans union trustees are appointed officials who themselves hold multiple lucrative pensions and are shielded from accountability. For example, in the West, trustees are selected by the heads of the Joint Councils in the plan. In the Central States, trustees are selected by an official from each state in the plan.
It is possible to make your trustees sit up and listen though, as our brothers and sisters in Central Pennsylvania are showing.
Health coverage in Central States just tripled in cost.
What can we do about it?
Central States, along with many other Teamster pension plans, has been warning retirees about the rising cost of health coverage for some time now. But the trustees proposals for dealing with the problem just stick members with the tab, resulting in a net cut in benefits.
There is a way to address rising health costs while protecting members benefits that our union trustees refuse to talk about. The solution is to negotiate sufficient employer contribution rates for our pension and health and welfare funds in upcoming contract talks. This requires a more coordinated bargaining strategy. With our union currently bargaining on economic issues with UPS, which will set the pattern for freight and carhaul next year, now’s the time to push for decent employer contribution rates to restore retiree health coverage.
I want to keep working after I retire, but I’m worried that I might lose my pension benefits. How can I avoid that?
It used to be that Teamsters looked forward to retirement as a well-deserved rest after a career of hard work. But today, Teamsters are retiring younger and staying active. Many take early retirement and start a second career.
Unfortunately, our Teamster pension plans refuse to change with the times. They impose overly restrictive re-employment rules that severely limit retirees choices of second careers. Central States has gone so far as to say that “The Pension Fund ... was designed to provide a retirement income, not supplemental income.”
While re-employment rules make sense to the extent that they keep retirees from putting their Teamster-related skills to work for the nonunion competition, the current rules are so restrictive that they end up denying retirees the right to earn a living. The rules are even more outrageous when compared to those for the lucrative officials-only pension plans that cover many union trustees. These plans have virtually no re-employment rule, and even allow officials to retire and work for management.
To protect yourself if you’re working after retirement, seek advice before filling out any forms for your fund related to re-employment. Every case is different, and you could be denied benefits unfairly simply because of how you word your job description, even if your job is legal under the funds regulations.
How can I protect my pension benefits?
Education and documentation are the key. Share this article with your co-workers, and educate yourself about how your plan works. Request all plan documents and financial information youre entitled to (see the Convoy article on “Your Right to Union Documents and Financial Information” to find out which documents, or go to the Department of Labor’s pension website at http://www.dol.gov/pwba/pubs/youknow/know2.htm#disclose).
Keep a paper trail so you can prove what benefits youre entitled to. Keep all your pay stubs and a copy of every contract you work under. Keep lists of the Teamster companies you work for, along with the names of your supervisors. Request your personal summary of plan benefits from your pension fund (they should send this to you every year), and make sure the funds records correspond with yours.
Teamsters in some areas have organized Pension Improvement Committees to safeguard their benefits and advocate for improvements. webmaster [at] tdu.org (Contact TDU) to find out how.