When writer-comedian Al Franken was sworn in as Minnesota’s junior Senator on July 7, I was intrigued to hear that he will be serving on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (also known as the Senate HELP Committee). Not surprisingly, this is one of the committees that we deal with the most, and I wondered what kind of positions Senator Franken would take on retirement income issues.
Then I found a July 5 news article from the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, MN, which covered Franken’s appearances at local 4th of July parades the day before. The article describes his encounter with a steelworker and a story he told about visiting a local mine:
And he [Franken] stopped to take advice from John Finken, of Warba. Finken, a steelworker, wants Franken to protect pensions. Finken is one of many on the Range whose pension has been changed or reduced because of mine-ownership changes and other business problems.
Finken rode a motorcycle in the Nashwauk parade displaying a sign reading, “SUFFER Pensions and Benefits.” SUFFER is an acronym for “stand up, fight for earned rights.”
Franken hopes to do just that. He had a quiet, private conversation with Finken, Oberstar and staffers before a parade to talk about how.
The almost-senator recalled Saturday a campaign visit he made to the HibTac mine in Hibbing to meet with workers.
“What are you going to do to protect my pension?” Franken said one worker asked. “And I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to make sure that corporations that have pensions are fully vested … and if they go bankrupt, that the pension is first in line.’ And I realized, I don’t know how great of an answer that was. So I called Bernie Sanders.”
Sanders is an independent senator from Vermont who serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, known as HELP.
“I said, ‘Bernie, how was that answer?’ And Bernie said, ‘Oh, it was OK,’ ” Franken said.
Now Franken, who will serve on the HELP Committee as well, has a slightly better and more complicated answer for those who ask him what he is going to do to protect their pensions.
And by the end of 5 1/2 years in the Senate, he hopes he’ll have much more than a good answer. He hopes he’ll have results for current and future retirees.
In addition, the front page of the Senator’s official web site (which consists only of a short bio and some standard links for now) lists “protection of a secure retirement” as one of his priorities. Sounds promising…
So, even though Mr. Franken is a little preoccupied with another committee that he is serving on right now, I am hopeful that his presence on the HELP Committee will be good for our issue – not just because of the spotlight that he brings as a “celebrity” in Congress, but also as a stated advocate for workers and retirees.
Al: we watched you when you were on Saturday Night Live. We’re watching you now in the Senate!