The golden years of everyday Americans who worked hard for decades to put away money for retirement are increasingly being jeopardized by the nation's pension system. But the Teamsters and a top presidential contender are working hard to change it.
Earlier this month, several hundred Teamster members and retirees came to Washington to voice outrage over proposed rules governing pension cuts and support for legislation offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) that would bolster multi-employer plans at the center of the dispute.
The "Keep Our Pension Promises Act" (KOPPA) would protect workers and retirees from cuts to their earned retirement benefits. The legislation would roll back provisions that were slipped into the fiscal 2015 spending bill approved by Congress last year that made earned pension benefits vulnerable to cuts.
KOPPA would restore anti-cutback rules so that retirees in financially troubled multi-employer pension plans would be protected from having their earned benefits cut. It ensures that the safety net system supported mostly by employers does not shift to one funded entirely by taxpayers.
In order to shore up the long-term sustainability of the existing federal pension insurance program, KOPPA creates a $30 billion legacy fund over 10 years, paid for by closing two tax loopholes used almost exclusively by the super-rich to avoid paying taxes.
But that's not the only way this union is making its voice be heard on the issue. Those same Teamsters who cheered on the Sanders-Kaptur KOPPA legislation also stood up and let federal officials representing the Treasury and Labor departments as well as the Internal Revenue Service and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation know they need to do everything they can to protect retirees in failing pension plans.
And last week, I wrote Thomas Nyhan, executive director of the Central States Pension Fund, to urge him not to file a petition with the Treasury Department asking for permission to cut the pensions of thousands of Teamster members and retirees who have earned them. Reducing their retirement will devastate many of their lives at a time they are most vulnerable.
While the Central States Fund is certainly financially troubled, it is nothing short of outrageous to try to prop it up by proposing draconian benefit cuts that will impose significant hardships on the very people the Fund is supposed to serve. The benefits these workers and retirees earned were the result of their own hard work as well as that of their fellow Teamsters. Wiping it out in order to balance the books is tantamount to highway robbery.
Of course, this nation's retirement security problem goes deeper than just one pension plan. Workers should have enough money to live comfortably when they retire. All hard-working Americans should share in the American dream of living the golden years without fear of bankruptcy or poverty. But with pensions under attack and Social Security's future uncertain, many questions remain about whether that will be a reality for millions of everyday people approaching retirement age.
The Teamsters highlighted the problem as part of our new Let's Get America Working campaign. The federal government must take steps to guarantee that those who played by the rules and were promised retirement benefits have financial security when their working days have ended. That means also strengthening Social Security and ensuring that workers get the benefits they earned from their pensions.
Financial institutions have done a number on pensions. A majority in Congress attacked workers' pensions that now put the retirements of thousands of Teamsters and other workers at risk. Meanwhile, Wall Street banks that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars managing pension funds during the Great Recession have largely been left unscathed.
Banks caused the pension problem, they should help solve it. As it stands, these institutions get to keep making millions on the backs of the very pensioners whose benefits were cut. That is unfair, unjust and plain un-American. It can stop now, however, if lawmakers see the error of their ways and support a fix.
Retirees should get what they were promised.