By David Brandolph
With the 2018 midterm elections mostly in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for a special bipartisan congressional committee on pensions to complete its mission and come up with a comprehensive and fair solution that rescues financially struggling plans, helps save the federal agency backstopping pensions, and protects the hard-earned benefits owed to retirees and active workers.
When Congress passed a law back in February creating the Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans, it gave the committee until November 30 to find a bipartisan solution to a looming plan insolvency crisis. Since then, the problem has worsened. In the last year alone, some 15 multiemployer plans joined the ranks of those heading to insolvency in the next 20 years, according to a recent study from the pension and health actuarial consulting firm Cheiron. The number of plans failing has reached 121, covering about 1.3 million workers, Cheiron found. Multiemployer plans are negotiated by a union with at least two employers.
Congressional leaders set the committee’s deadline after the election to ensure that committee members had several weeks to operate in a low political pressure environment to reach across the political divide and broker a compromise solution. That time has arrived, and affected retirees are keenly aware of the opportunity it presents. Hundreds of them – retired truck drivers, warehouse workers, mine workers and their spouses – have arrived in Washington this week to tell their elected officials that the time to act is now.
The retirees are backing legislation proposed by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Congressman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), which would provide federal loans to struggling plans to enable them to fully protect retirees’ pensions. By making sure that plans can pay their pension obligations to retirees, the bill, known as the Butch Lewis Act, will ensure that plans have sufficient funds to pay the full promised benefits of active workers and preserve the plans for the future. While the Butch Lewis Act is a workable fix, the retirees say they are open to other solutions that fairly protect their benefits and keep their pension plan afloat.