While former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress, the big news on Capitol Hill yesterday arguably was the boost the House of Representatives gave to hundreds of thousands of working-class American workers and retirees who have lost or will lose a major portion of their promised retirement income. The “People’s House” on July 24 passed the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pension Act, H.R. 397, in a bipartisan 264-169 vote that included ayes from 29 Republicans. In doing so, the lower chamber acted to keep afloat scores of financially drowning multiemployer pension plans and in the process averting devastation to families, businesses and communities.
The bill, better known as the Butch Lewis Act, offers an innovative way to save from insolvency about 130 financially troubled multiemployer pension plans, which are negotiated by a union and at least two employers, while fully protecting the earned benefits of hundreds of thousands of retirees. To become law, the legislation, which was reintroduced in the Senate July 24, now needs approval in that body along with the President’s signature.
The House’s favorable vote marks the culmination of a five-year effort by thousands of employees and retirees across the country who have advocated for the repeal of provisions of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 (MPRA), which eviscerated fundamental provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. MPRA allows trustees of multiemployer plans to cut retirees’ earned benefits as a misguided way to improve the funding of these plans. Since its passage, MPRA has led to devastating pension reductions—sometimes in excess of 60 percent—for tens of thousands of retired members and their spouses and widows in 14 pension plans.
Some 1.5 million active and retired truck drivers, ironworkers, bakery workers, musicians, clerical workers and others stand to lose much of the hard-earned pensions that they procured during numerous collective bargaining negotiations in which they agreed to receive pension contributions instead of taking wage increases.
The Pension Rights Center, a 43-year-old national consumer organization committed to the protection of retirement security for workers and retirees, is delighted by the House vote and is urging the Senate to follow the House’s lead.
In a letter sent to the House of Representatives on July 19, Karen Friedman, the center’s executive vice president and policy director, told Congress:
“The Rehabilitation of Multiemployer Pensions Act provides a sensible, common sense way of shoring up funding in critical and declining multiemployer plans. The bill would provide loans and other assistance to these severely underfunded plans to enable them to protect retirees’ earned benefits, while providing plans with sufficient time to recover their losses and repay their loans. We especially commend the bill for ensuring that those plans that have already received approval from the Treasury to cut retirees’ benefits must apply for financial support and restoration of previously suspended benefits.”
“We are thrilled beyond belief that the House of Representatives passed the bill, which is something we’ve been working toward for the past six years,” Friedman said after the House’s gratifying vote passing the legislation. “We are also pleased that the bill has been reintroduced in the Senate with 27 co-sponsors, meaning that now there is truly a great way forward.”
During the debate in the House before the roll call vote, several House Republicans who opposed the bill said the legislation had no chance of passing in the Senate and that passing it in the House was therefore a pointless gesture. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA), who introduced the bill, said in response that he disagreed with those sentiments. “Passing this bill provides an opportunity to have something to negotiate with as we move forward,” he said.
For further information, contact Karen Friedman at 202-296-3777 or call her cell at 202-320-6518.