Brothers and Sisters,
By now, retired and active members have received letters from the Pension Fund detailing the individual impact of the improvements that were announced at the General Membership Meeting in July.
Again, active members will see their entire pension contribution accrued from April 1, 2020 forward, meaning there will be no additional “bucket” contributions. Retirees who contributed to the “bucket” and retired prior to June 1, 2021 will receive a bucket refund as a 13th check this December in the amount of 40 percent of their total bucket contributions with interest, minus applicable tax withholdings.
As our Pension Fund continues to build strength, I am optimistic that we will be able to return to discussing additional improvements in the near future. As I explained in my August column, every improvement that we make carries a cost, so the Pension Fund’s trustees have to be considerate toward the funding percentage as we contemplate future improvements.
When we held the General Membership Meeting in mid-July, the Pension Fund sat at nearly 100 percent funded. Approving the improvements for active members retroactive to 2020 brought that funding level to 97 percent. Then, approving a 13th check for eligible retirees brought it to 95 percent. Finally, lowering the Fund’s assumed rate of return from 7.5 percent down to 7 percent – a vital step toward de-risking the fund and insulating ourselves from future downturns – brought us to approximately 91 percent.
While members have been excited to see these improvements and to see their expected pension benefits growing more quickly, I have heard from many members who want to see additional improvements right away. As I reported in July, the goals of the Pension Fund are to continue to increase the funding percentage, reduce risk and exposure of the Fund, and to find appropriate opportunities to continue to implement improvements and repay bucket money. We just can’t do it all at once. As you read above, there is a cost to every improvement, and we have to allow our funding percentage to grow again after a round of improvements before introducing additional improvements.
One of the most significant impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our organization is the reduction in training hours. Last March, the Training Center was forced to close for about a month as the government wrapped its head around the public health situation, and when we successfully fought to reopen, we could only do so at reduced capacity. Since then, we have found ways to continue to offer training to as many members as possible, but that lost training time, as well as the interruption to our application process in 2020, has forced us to play catch-up with bringing in new apprentices. I want to thank the retirees who have stepped in to help and allow us to minimize the number of permits and travelers that we’ve had to clear in. Bringing in new apprentices is always our preferred way to continue to fill seats as work improves, and we are working hard to do that now.
Our Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Program began accepting applications for Heavy Equipment Operators, Testers, Drillers, and Mechanics at the beginning of September and will continue to do so through the end of October. If you have a son or daughter who is interested in joining Local 150, please encourage them to apply.
In order to comply with Governor Pritzker’s recent Executive Order, the Trustees of the Local 150 Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Program have updated the COVID-19 policies for staff and members visiting the William E. Dugan Training Center.
The updated policy was approved by the Trustees after Apprenticeship Fund Counsel carefully reviewed the Executive Order and determined that our Apprenticeship Program is covered, as it clearly meets the definition of an Institution of Higher Education. Counsel also determined that the Executive Order has not been challenged and is valid, and that courts have broadly upheld vaccine mandates for decades.
The Trustees’ primary objective when adjusting policies throughout the pandemic has been to provide a safe and healthy environment for staff and members to work and train. In addition, we have a legal obligation to adhere to Executive Orders to avoid liability arising from illness or injury resulting from non-compliance. Refusing to adhere to this Executive Order would expose our Apprenticeship Program to unnecessary risk and expense that Labor and Management Trustees agreed would be reckless and illegal.
Trustees will continue to monitor health and safety regulations and associated developments and act swiftly to ensure the safety, compliance and accessibility of the Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Program.
After a brief closure in early 2020, the Training Center was able to reopen and continue to provide instruction for members because we have adapted and adhered to applicable laws and regulations. We will continue to operate in a manner that allows the program to remain open, as an interruption or closure from non-compliance would be unacceptable.
This policy, like so many things through the course of the pandemic, have required patience and flexibility on the part of the staff and membership, and we appreciate your understanding as we continue to navigate through these unprecedented circumstances.
We are also hearing a lot about forthcoming mandates from contractors that are being pushed by either their customers or by proposed federal regulations. We are continuing to negotiate with them over the economics and work rules surrounding potential vaccine mandates, understanding that existing legal structure currently gives broad authority for these types of vaccine mandates in a safety context.
Much legislative attention was given to Illinois’ recent push for an updated energy bill. The main interest that we took in the legislation was to ensure that the utilities that employ so many operating engineers on capital improvement programs are permitted to continue that work. While the goal of the legislation was to ensure that Illinois lowers its carbon footprint over the coming decades, we wanted to make sure that utilities like Nicor, Peoples Gas, and ComEd were not punished or otherwise prohibited from performing work on their infrastructure. I am pleased to say that our efforts were successful, and that these important construction programs will continue.
Finally, I want to congratulate our new Vice President, Jeffrey Horne. Following the retirement of longtime Recording-Corresponding Secretary Steven Cisco, Mike Kresge was moved from Vice President to fill that role, and the Officers appointed Horne to serve as Vice President. He has been an asset in the field as a business representative and was helpful in this year’s contract negotiations, and I believe he will do a great job as an officer.
Across our jurisdiction, work has been very strong this year. Members are seeing their hours go up, and our benefit funds are stronger because of it. We have been able to negotiate great contracts over the past year, and I have no doubt that we will continue to do so. I am optimistic for our union on so many fronts. Once the world can shake this pandemic, we will be able to really take off on an exciting path forward.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall.