The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is pushing lawmakers to preserve retirement security as the nation's pension system continues to teeter toward crisis.
On Tuesday, the union urged supporters to contact representatives and senators to boost the Butch Lewis Act, which would allow the Treasury Department to issue loans to struggling pension funds and establish an emergency fund within the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, an independent agency that handles bankrupt retirement plans. The Teamsters face some of the largest liabilities in the country within its retirement plans, and its Central States fund has enough debt to completely wipe out the PBGC if it fails. At the local level it has witnessed several funds drain over the past several years, leaving members with steep cuts to their benefits.
"There is a pension crisis in this country and Congress must resolve it as soon as possible to protect workers and our economy," the union said in an email. "We need the constituents of these Committee members to reach out to encourage their congressperson(s) to adopt the Butch Lewis Act and to take action as soon as possible."
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In March, Congress formed a bipartisan Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans to explore ways to halt the downward spiral many plans are taking. Multiemployer plans are popular in the building trades and shipping where workers may handle contracts for different companies throughout the course of their careers. Participant companies contribute to a joint fund that pays out to retirees. The system, however, has come under threat from consolidation and the lack of new companies replacing bygone participants, which leaves a smaller pool of companies responsible for paying out benefits.
Butch-Lewis is not the only bill Congress is weighing to alleviate the pressure of maintaining pension benefits for retired union members. In February the bipartisan Give Retirement Options to Workers (GROW) Act was introduced to allow healthier funds avoid future financial calamity. The bill would allow qualifying funds to shift to hybrid models combining traditional defined benefit plans with 401(k)-style defined contribution plans.
Companies are also marshaling support for pension reform. Former representative Connie Mack IV (R., Fla.) is leading the Protect Our Workers Earned Retirement (POWER) coalition, which represents eight companies that participate in these retirement plans. While the group has yet to endorse any specific legislation, Mack says its main goal is to keep the issue front and center for lawmakers serving on the committee. He called 2018 "crunch time" for future retirees, which is why his group and its allies at the state level are also reaching out to lawmakers from their districts to push bipartisan reforms.
"Failure of the committee is not an option," Mack told the Washington Free Beacon. "What could end up happening is benefits start to shrink or go away and that's going to have a severe impact on retirees' lives and that of their communities: You will have businesses going under, fewer jobs in the community—it becomes a much broader problem than we are looking at now."
The committee met for the first time in March and is expected to release a report to Congress by November.