By David Brandolph
Retirees, workers, spouses and widows who have been fighting intensely for many years to protect their hard-earned multiemployer plan pensions have reason to celebrate. The bill that they’ve been backing to fix a looming pension crisis was voted out of the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday and is on a path to the full House for a floor vote.
It’s been a long slog for the retirees, but their perseverance is paying off.
For retirees who had arrived from all over the country to attend the committee’s markup session, the day began with a 9:00 a.m. rally outside the U.S. Capital in support of a bill best known as the Butch Lewis Act. The bill was named after the late Butch Lewis, an Ohio truck driver and member of the Central States pension plan, who fought tirelessly to protect retirees’ benefits before succumbing to a stroke in December of 2015. The proposal would provide loans and other assistance to severely underfunded plans to enable them to protect retirees’ earned benefits, while also giving plans sufficient time to recover their losses and repay their loans.
During the rally, retirees heard from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA), Republican Congressman Peter King (NY), Teamsters President James Hoffa, and fiery pension activist, Rita Lewis, the widow of Butch Lewis, who all expressed optimism that the bill would pass. Retirees then walked across the street to the Longworth House Office Building to attend what would turn out to be a grueling Ways and Means Committee markup session.
Finally, after five-and-a-half-hours of debate and voting on Republican-member amendments, a boisterous chorus of applause and cheers erupted as Chairman Neal announced that the committee had voted to move the Butch Lewis Act favorably out of the committee.
The Butch Lewis Act has now passed two House committees—Education and Labor last month and Ways and Means yesterday. It’s expected that House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi will bring the bill to the House floor for a vote by the end of July, where it’s likely to pass in the Democratically-controlled legislative chamber.
Then it will be up to the Senate to act. We need to keep the pressure on senators to pass the Butch Lewis Act or another comprehensive bill that saves underfunded multiemployer plans, protects workers and retirees’ full benefits, and puts the PBGC on sound footing.