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Retirees protest proposed pension cuts

Retirees protest proposed pension cuts

The last few weeks have been busy for retirees who are working around the clock to stop the pension cuts proposed by the Central States Pension Fund that would affect hundreds of thousands of retired truck drivers, spouses and widows. 

Just this past weekend, retirees in five states held coordinated actions to call attention to the cuts authorized by the ill-conceived Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA). Actions were held in Columbus, Ohio; St. Paul, Minnesota; Kansas City, Missouri; Raleigh and Dunn, North Carolina; and Detroit, Michigan.

Retirees in North Carolina picketed at congressional district offices while retirees in Ohio marched outside a Democratic fundraiser to urge candidates to address the proposed pension cuts.  At an event in Springfield, Missouri, former president Bill Clinton said that the Treasury Department should reject the Central States Pension Fund application to cut retiree pensions, saying, “we don’t need any 50 percent cuts to people’s pensions that they worked their whole lives to get. And we can fix it.”

In Kansas City, retirees held coffins with the words “Death of Pensions” outside YRC headquarters. YRC is one of the companies paying into the Central States Pension Fund. In St. Paul, retirees marched outside the State Capitol; and in Detroit retirees marched outside the McNamera Federal Building to call attention to the cuts. 

Whitlow Wyatt, who participated at the protest at a Democratic presidential fundraiser in Ohio, put it this way, “I have been watching the presidential debates for months now and everybody talks about how we have to protect the middle class. Yet, I haven't heard a single candidate talk about our pensions being cut. We did everything right, gave up wages and now our pensions are going to be decimated.  It’s time for all policymakers and candidates to begin talking about this and finding ways to solve this problem.”

See photos from this weekend's activities on our Facebook page.

These events come on the heels of testimony from Rita Lewis, who spoke before the Senate Finance Committee about the “shameful and cruel cuts” authorized by MPRA. The hearing, The Multiemployer Pension System: Recent Reforms and Current Challenges, was the first congressional hearing held that provided an overview on the impact MPRA would have on retirees, their families and the overall economy.

Rita, of Westchester, Ohio, travelled to Washington, DC, to represent her beloved late husband Butch Lewis, a Vietnam veteran and career truck driver. Until his death, Butch fought alongside activists across the country to stop the retiree pension cuts made possible by MPRA.  Rita pled with Senate Finance Committee members to “stop the cuts in MPRA and find a bi-partisan solution to shore up underfunded multiemployer plans and protect retirees.”

Rita recounted how her late husband endured 37 surgeries to repair a knee he injured during Vietnam and drove a truck every day for 40 years – just so he could receive a pension. When he died of a massive stroke late last year, Butch was facing a 40 percent cut to his pension due to MPRA. Rita said, “Now I’m left without my husband, who was the love of my life, and facing cuts in my survivor benefits also by 40 percent.”

In all my years in Washington, I’ve never seen senators so moved.  Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) called Rita’s testimony “extraordinarily powerful” and promised that the Committee would treat this as “urgent business,” because, as he said, you “do not just snatch away pension rights from Americans who never did anything but the right thing.”  Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), said that Rita’s was one of the most powerful statements he’d heard in all his years on the Committee. And Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), called Butch a “true patriot” and said that, with her testimony, Rita had become the face of the pension reform movement.

During the hearing, Democrats on the Committee released a letter asking their Republican counterparts to work toward a bipartisan solution to the multiemployer problems that would prevent these unconscionable retiree pension cuts.

These actions are the start of events to raise awareness of the impact the proposed pension cuts will have on retirees, their families and their communities. In April, retirees and family members from around the country will travel to Washington, DC, on April 14 for a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.

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