By David Brandolph
Political candidates vying for office in the midterms and beyond need to pay attention to fixing a key under-the-radar economic issue that has energized hundreds of thousands of committed working class voters concentrated in key battleground states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.
These voters are retired truck drivers, mineworkers, iron workers, and others who have earned their pensions through long years of hard physical labor but who are facing huge cuts to their lifetime benefits due to a looming pension insolvency crisis that they had no part in causing.
These retirees are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. To win their votes, they are demanding that candidates demonstrate commitment to fundamental fairness by supporting legislation that protects their benefits and fixes financial problems threatening to sink as many as 100-150 severely underfunded multiemployer pension plans, which are plans negotiated by a union with at least two employers.
Just to put this in perspective, there are 400,000 workers and retirees who could lose billions of dollars in benefits if just one plan, the Central States Pension Fund, collapses, which is likely to occur by 2025, according to plan officials. Moreover, a recent economic study suggests that failure of the Central States plan would cost the nation tens of thousands of jobs, negatively impact GNP, and reduce federal, state and local tax revenue by more than $1.5 billion dollars.
If Central States and the other plans that are projected to fail are not saved, at least 1.5 million workers and retirees will face devastation. When pensioners lose benefits it not only affects their ability to pay their expenses, but also could wreak havoc on spouses, children and grandchildren who rely on this income to survive. Pension cuts would also hurt local economies where pensioners buy groceries, frequent restaurants and keep local businesses thriving.
“I’ll be voting on Tuesday, and in elections down-the-line, only for candidates who will act to protect my pension, which I earned fair and square. I gave up wages and other benefits for the promise of a lifetime pension,” says Bernie Anderson, a 66-year-old retired truck driver, and an official of the Wisconsin Committee to Protect Pensions.” He expects that tens of thousands of others in his predicament in Wisconsin and states across the country, particularly in the Midwest and in the Southeast, will also be making this their top issue in deciding how to vote.
Anderson and others have been looking to see which candidates support one particular legislative solution – the Butch Lewis Act – sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Congressman Richard Neal (D-Mass). Retirees say that support for this bill is a litmus test for their votes this week. The bill provides loans to financially-troubled plans and requires that they fully protect the earned pensions of retirees.
Going forward, the retirees will be focusing on a bipartisan congressional committee created to come up with a solution to the multiemployer crisis. The Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Plans is charged with developing a legislative proposal by November 30. These retirees have been lobbying their members of Congress to endorse the Butch Lewis Act but say they are also willing to consider other solutions – as long as they protect their benefits,
Politicians of both parties say that they are committed to solving problems of the working class. Whoever is elected today should prove it by demanding that the Joint Select Committee act quickly and fairly to save the pensions of 1.5 million workers and retirees.