Over the past couple of months, you should have received information about yet another attack on our pension fund. These postcards, phone calls, and emails from the union urged members to contact their senators to voice their disapproval of the Multiemployer Pension Recapitalization and Reform Plan (MPRRP) proposed by Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Lamar Alexander in late 2019.
At the General Membership Meeting this January, we reported that Local 150 members sent more than 13,000 emails to their Senators and we were glad to hear that so many members had been able to interact directly with their Senators and staff. During the meeting, a number of members asked President-Business Manager James M. Sweeney about the Butch Lewis Act, which many Senators mentioned in their responses to members regarding the MRRRP.
In July 2019, members of the House of Representatives passed the Butch Lewis Act, also titled “The Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act.” The bill, which has since sat stagnant in the Senate Finance Committee, would establish the Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA) within the Treasury Department. The PRA would then lend money from the sale of bonds to financially-troubled pension plans in the form of long-term, low-interest loans.
The Butch Lewis Act is endorsed by labor organizations such as the AFL-CIO, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the United Steelworkers, and it doesn’t contain the punishing fees or pension insurance premium increases that the MPRRP would use to cripple all healthy multi-employer funds.
While the Act may only be a band-aid, it is a band-aid for millions of working men and women who are counting on their pensions to retire. Multi-employer pension plans, funded in part by employer contributions, form the backbone of the retirement safety net for over 10 million Americans, including Local 150 members. The Butch Lewis Act takes a different approach from the MPRRP – one that does not punish workers in healthy funds in order to provide relief for troubled funds.
While the likelihood of passage in the Senate is unlikely at best, we must remind our legislators that when our Fund ran into trouble, we got ourselves out of it. We didn’t ask for a bailout, and if we had, we never would have gotten one. Instead, we made a collective sacrifice and brought ourselves back to health through difficult but prudent decisions. Despite major differences from the MPRRP, the Butch Lewis Act is still not a solution. If other funds need to find their way back to health, it cannot be done on our backs.