By Emily Gilbert
I was so glad to be able to accompany Karen Friedman, PRC’s EVP to a media event on Capitol Hill in support of the Butch Lewis Act of 2017. I started as an intern with PRC just 4 months ago and I’m so excited to be able to be part of a process that could lead to comprehensive legislation being passed to help a million or more retirees have their pension protected.
This fight started long before I got here– the PRC has been working for three years with tens of thousands of activists to work to protect multiemployer plans and protect retirees’ earned benefits. The progress that has been made in the past three years, and even just in the four months I have been here, is incredible! This was the second press event I’ve been to at the Capitol in support of this new legislation introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Congressman Richard Neal (D-OH). If enacted, this bill will help save the pensions of millions of workers across the country.
I have always been interested in politics, so it’s very exciting for me to get to hear so many members of congress speak in person! First, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) talked about how Democrats have been fighting for a pension solution, saying “we want it in the end-year omnibus bill, now!” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) followed, also saying this is a priority for the end-year spending bill, and ending enthusiastically by saying, “No cuts!” Then Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) talked about his bill, saying he was honored to name the bill after Butch Lewis, who worked 40 years as an Ohio Teamster and spent years fighting for a solution to this problem. Senator Brown acknowledged Butch’s widow Rita, who has stepped in to keep up the fight in honor of Butch and so many other retirees. Senator Brown asked, “Are we going to fight for Wall Street and corporate CEOs, or are we going to fight for workers and retirees?” The answer, he said “is really clear to all of us.”
Also there to show support for the bill were Congressmen Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Rick Nolan (D-MN), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Congresswomen Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
James Hoffa, the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, urged the dozens of retirees in attendance to keep the pressure on Congress, saying “there is no ‘No’ on this! This is not a Democrat or Republican bill, this is about Americans.” Mike Walden, President of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions, gave an emotional speech about his friendship with Butch Lewis, all of the hard work he and many others have put in throughout the years, and he urged Congress to pass this bill before the end of the year. A retired mineworker, who celebrated his 81st birthday the day before this press conference, then spoke about how many of the men he worked with for years have since died of cancer, highlighting the importance of protecting the widows of these workers and ensuring they continue to receive pension benefits.
This is an issue that PRC and retirees have worked hard on for a long time, and now we are closer than ever to getting a bill passed. As many of the speakers at this press conference emphasized, this is a bipartisan issue that affects millions of workers across the country who have worked hard for their pensions. It has been amazing to meet so many of these retirees who have done so much in the past three years to fight for themselves and their hard earned pension benefits. They often quote Butch Lewis, who always used to say “A promise is a promise is a promise.” We hope that before the end of the year the passage of this bill will ensure that these pension promises are kept!
Watch the full press conference here.
Find more resources about The Butch Lewis Act of 2017 here.