The House Committee on Education and Labor passed the Butch Lewis Act out of committee June 11, the first step toward an eventual vote on the House floor.
Folsom, N.J., Local 351’s Rep. Donald Norcross, a member of the committee and a sponsor of the bill, said, “I know firsthand that workers have earned their pensions and deserve safe, secure retirements. Today we took an important first step in protecting the hard-earned retirement security of hundreds of thousands of working families and retirees across the country.
“After the financial collapse, Congress acted to take care of Wall Street. If you can save the banks, you can save the people,” he said.
IBEW members are encouraged to keep the pressure on their congressional representatives and senators to get H.R. 397 across the finish line. See the link to find your representatives in the original story below.
Weeks before Christmas, hundreds of IBEW members swarmed Capitol Hill to kill a proposal that would have crippled multi-employer pension plans.
|Lobbying from the IBEW and other labor unions killed the Republican plan that risked the future of all multiemployer pension plans which cover hundreds of thousands of IBEW members and millions more Americans. But it might still come back
But nearly six months have gone by without a permanent fix to the pension crisis, and IBEW leaders are again asking for members’ help to kick-start the legislative process.
There are roughly 1,400 multiemployer pension plans in the U.S. Most are fine – including nearly every IBEW plan – but a handful are in trouble, mostly in industries hollowed out in recent decades, including unionized trucking, mining and food service.
The IBEW effort, aided by other unions, successfully killed the plan that would have saddled healthy pension plans with the bill for the trouble plans back in December, but without further action, each of the more than 10 million pension plans covered by the government guarantor, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, would be at risk.
“They wanted us to pay more for our benefits while getting less out of them and it’s important we stopped that,” said International Secretary Treasurer Kenny Cooper. “This is our money. These are our plans. We weren’t about to let Congress touch one dime of it.”
But stopping a bad bill isn’t the same as getting a good bill passed. Now that Democrats own the House majority, Cooper said he expected to pivot away from preventing dangerous bills and toward making real progress. To an extent, there is good news, he said.
First there is an actual solution to the long-term problem.
The Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pension Act (H.R. 397) provides long-term, low interest federal loans to troubled plans, which those plans would be required to fully pay back as their investments returned to positive territory.
The bill is more informally known as the Butch Lewis Act, named after a Teamster who was so concerned about the lost income he faced when his pension plan went under that he had a stroke and died.
The bill’s cost is estimated between $7 and $34 billion, but the number is far lower than the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program that bailed out the banks a decade ago or the $135 billion federal bailout of mortgage insurers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
And those cost estimates don’t account for the massive projected economic impact of the failure of just one of the troubled plans. Economists predict the collapse of the Central States fund, which covers mostly union truckers, would eliminate 55,000 jobs and cost $3 billion in labor income in 2025 alone. The ripple effect on communities across the Midwest could easily tally higher than the bill’s potential cost.
The Butch Lewis Act has broad support across organized labor and, as of early May, the bill had more than 140 sponsors in the House. Political and Legislative Department Director Austin Keyser said he expects Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.
“It is our understanding that Sen. Brown is working on getting support from Republicans in the Senate before reintroducing the legislation, but we expect to see it in the coming months,” said Keyser.
In the interim, Keyser said, IBEW members must continue to put the pressure on their representatives in the House to co-sponsor the bill. To find your representative, enter your zip code at House.gov.
“This landmark legislation will protect benefits for millions of Americans who have worked their entire lives to secure their families’ retirement. Our representatives need to hear from us, because they are definitely hearing from the bosses and the banks that want to turn us out of pensions and into something worse,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.