Debbie Wasserman Schultz And The Crisis in Workers' Retirement Funds

American unions should be standing up for American workers, not caving in to a corporate-dominated Democrat who has done so much to undermine both the Democratic Party and the security of American workers. I'm not afraid to stand up for American workers or to stand up to Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
07/07/2016 10:32 am ET Updated Jul 08, 2017

In November 2014, Democrats suffered one of the worst midterm election defeats in American history, resulting in the largest Republican majority in nearly a century. Debbie Wasserman Schultz did not lose her job as head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) because of this disastrous failure. Instead, as a member of the House, Wasserman Schultz voted weeks later with a lame-duck Congress for a bill that now jeopardizes the retirement savings of about 400,000 Americans workers, including thousands of Teamsters and other union members.

Unfortunately, Wasserman Schultz and her Republican allies who voted for the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) never questioned the false claims that the measure would prevent retirement plans from becoming insolvent. Perhaps this is because the demise of these pension funds would serve the Wall Street interests that have contributed so much money to her campaigns.

Prior to the MPRA, a retiree's pension could not be reduced unless the plan ran out of money. The MPRA, for the first time, allows for a reduction in pension payments prior to a plan's insolvency. Wasserman Schultz ignored warnings that this would create a dangerous precedent that could open the door for similar cuts to Social Security and single-employer pension plans.

Under this new legal regime, the giant Central States Pension Fund (CSPF) applied last September to impose drastic benefit cuts on its 400,000 participants, claiming that the fund is projected to become insolvent in ten years. The Treasury Department rejected this plan and called for more reductions in benefits. Many of the CSPF recipients who rely on their pensions to pay mortgages and buy groceries, are now left hanging -- unsure whether the fund will go under and perhaps bankrupt the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, the federal agency that insures workers' pension plans.

Wasserman Schultz and her Republican colleagues who voted for the MPRA never asked the hard question of why these once-robust pension plans are now facing potential insolvency. Much of the distress in these funds can be traced back to the 2008 financial collapse. In addition to huge investment losses, many companies went bankrupt, thereby withdrawing from the multi-employer plans, and putting pressure on those remaining to fund existing obligations. Meanwhile, a sharp decline in U.S. jobs caused plans to suddenly have a dangerously high ratio of retirees to active workers.

If Wasserman Schultz and her Republican allies had focused on these root causes of the pension crisis, perhaps they would have found better solutions than simply streamlining cuts in the retirement benefits of 400,000 American workers. For instance, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, the Federal Reserve literally made trillions of dollars in low interest loans to the largest Wall Street banks and hedge funds, and even to large foreign banks. However, unlike in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market collapse, the Fed never extended assistance to Main Street interests. In contrast, in the 1930s and 1940s, the Fed made loans directly to small businesses throughout the country. Today, the Fed could do the same, as well as make low interest rate loans directly to state infrastructure banks, workers' cooperatives, and of course, to multi-employer and single-employer pension funds.

Why should Wall Street banks and hedge funds -- the very institutions that created the 2008 financial crisis -- get propped up with sweetheart loans while workers' pension funds have never received a penny in low interest loans from the nation's central bank? Instead, we see socialism for Wall Street, and cut-throat austerity for Main Street. Why is it that Wall Street gets bailed out from its failures, but workers keep taking it on the chin?

These are questions I would ask Wasserman Schultz if we were to debate the issues. I'm sure she has no compelling answers to these questions, which is probably why she continues to avoid debating me.

I would also like to ask why she has never pushed for a federal infrastructure bank to help finance the public investments we need to rebuild our economy. And of course, why did she lobby other members of Congress to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that will outsource millions of American jobs to poor Asian countries with rock-bottom labor and human rights standards?

Unfortunately, too many union leaders have given Wasserman Schultz a "free pass" on her terrible vote on fast-tracking the TPP. Someday rank-and-file union members may question why their own union leaders have also given her a free pass for her vote to fast-track the demise of workers' retirement savings. Too many union leaders have also engineered endorsements of Wasserman Schultz without even screening other candidates, thereby depriving their own union members of any meaningful voice -- or meaningful choice -- in the selection of their representative to Congress.

American unions should be standing up for American workers, not caving in to a corporate-dominated Democrat who has done so much to undermine both the Democratic Party and the security of American workers. I'm not afraid to stand up for American workers or to stand up to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. While she keeps dodging debates, I welcome the opportunity to discuss these and other issues in any public forum at anytime. That's what a true democracy is all about.

Tim Canova is running in an August 30th Democratic primary for the U.S. House of Representatives in Florida's 23rd Congressional District against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He is also a professor of law and public finance at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law in Davie, Florida.