By Karen Friedman
Yesterday was the day we have all been waiting for, the culmination of more than three years of hard work by hundreds of thousands of retirees and their many advocates and supporters.
In a regal room in the U.S. Capitol building, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) – surrounded by their colleagues and hundreds of retired truck drivers, mineworkers and their spouses – announced the introduction of comprehensive legislation to address the multiemployer pension crisis. The “Butch Lewis Act of 2017” and its House companion bill “The Rehabilitation of Multiemployer Pensions Act” provide an innovative way to avoid reductions in retiree pensions by providing relief to financially-troubled pension plans.
If enacted into law, these bills will protect the earned pensions of more than one million workers and retirees and will help save the federal pension insurance program. While other pieces of legislation have been introduced – most importantly, the “Keep Our Pension Promises Act” by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) – the new legislation offers the best hope of getting bipartisan support and passing Congress.
Many members of Congress spoke at the press event. Senator Sherrod Brown, the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said that “except for the birth of each of my six grandchildren…this moment today is the best day I will have had in the U.S. Senate.” Congressman Richard Neal spoke about the importance of keeping promised pensions on top of a secure Social Security system. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) praised the activists and said, “I look forwards to every step that we are going to take together to get this over the finish line.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), said, “Broken promises mean broken lives,” quoting the slogan she saw emblazoned on the shirt worn by Mike Walden, the Chairman of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions, “that is something we have to dispel, and this legislation will do that.” She also said that she asked Congressman Neal take the lead on the bill and that her top priority was “No cuts!”
Also, at the event supporting the bill were Congresswomen Kaptur, Cheri Bustos, (D-IL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Congressmen Rick Nolan (D-MN), Donald Norcross (D-NJ) and Bobby Scott. (D-VA)
Rita Lewis, the widow of Butch Lewis for whom the Senate bill is named, gave a powerful, impassioned speech about the issue. She thanked all the retirees who were there for working every step of the way. She made it clear that the bills are not a “bailout or a handout” and that they must be passed. Her grandchildren were with her, carrying signs.
We’ve been working long and hard on this issue. And it now seems that we really will get this over the finish line. We must make this effort bipartisan; we cannot let up. But we are now a lot closer to making sure that pension promises are kept – thanks to Senator Brown and Congressman Neal, and great work by activists far and wide!
Watch a video of the full press conference here.