In the “lame duck” session of Congress called at the end of last year, lawmakers voted, without ever holding any public hearings on the matter, to approve a measure altering 40 years of labor law, and paving the way for unprecedented cuts in benefits for current retirees in troubled multi-employer pension plans.
Media reports estimate that the pensions of 1.5 million future and current retirees, the vast majority if not all of them unionized, could be reduced by 30% to 65% as a consequence of the legislation, which President Obama signed into law 10 months ago.
‘The Question Is When And How [Benefit Cuts] Are Going to Happen’
The so-called “Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014” (MPRA) has been and continues to be harshly denounced in public by a number of union officials as well as by diehard Big Labor supporters in Congress like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
But the fact is, the MPRA could never have been adopted without the support of the bosses of multiple unions whose rank-and-file members now face “a massive cut in their pension benefits,” as Mr. Sanders, who is also seeking the 2016 Democrat presidential nomination, has put it.
In 2013, William Hite, general president of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry (UA), endorsed the original blueprint for the MPRA, known as “Solutions, Not Bailouts,” when it was issued by a commission on multi-employer pension reform.
Mr. Hite declared that the SNB proposal, essentially identical in key regards to the measure ultimately introduced by Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and John Kline (R-Minn.) and adopted by Congress, would make “retirement plans more secure.”
Tom Nyhan, executive director of the Teamster Union’s Central States, Southeast, & Southwest Areas Pension Fund, was unapologetic about the fact that the SNB plan would cut retiree benefits sharply:
“We are going — it’s not a question of if there are going to be benefit cuts. There are going to be benefit cuts. The question is when and how they are going to happen.”
‘This Is Going to Be a Big Hit’
National Right to Work Committee Vice President Matthew Leen commented:
“Over the course of much if not most of their working lives, the current and future retirees who belong to the plumbers, Teamsters, sheet metal workers, and other unions whose pension plans are now under the knife were forking over forced dues and fees to Big Labor bosses.
“And one of the handful of jobs that union officials were supposed to do in exchange for the hundreds of millions of dollars in conscripted money they took in was to ensure that the pensions those workers had been promised were there when the workers needed them.
“But now it’s obvious that a large share of forced dues-paying workers in multi-employer plans did not have secure pensions — and union pension trustees and other union officials who had access to the books must have been aware there was a grave problem for decades.
“Plumbers, Teamster, and sheet metal union officials only began sharing the truth with the rank-and-file quite recently, when they backed the establishment of a multi-employer pension commission and then endorsed the severe cuts it recommended.”
In late August, a Teamster appointee sent out a form letter to “fellow retirees” stating that they would hear from her again soon regarding Central States trustees’ imminent “proposal” and “its impact on their benefits.”
A few weeks later, Chicago Tribune columnist Janet Kidd Stewart profiled a couple of Wisconsin retirees who are bracing for hardship. One of the retirees, 63-year-old Bob Amsden, noted that he had accepted several pay cuts over the years so he could continue working for companies participating in the Central States plan, which he believed was secure. Regarding the looming pension cuts, he simply said, “This is going to be a big hit.”
“As sad as the plight of retirees like Mr. Amsden is,” said Mr. Leen, “the MPRA may have been the least-bad solution if the only alternative was a massive taxpayer bailout of union boss-controlled multi-employer pensions.
“Of course, Big Labor should have leveled with future retirees years ago. It would have given workers like Mr. Amsden time to prepare. This is another distressing illustration of just how little union bosses deserve their forced-dues privileges.”