Across the nation, tens of thousands of union retirees are seeing their pensions slashed by upwards of 50% (or more, in some cases).
The cuts to existing retirees’ pensions are largely due to the passage of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, which was sponsored by longtime Democrat Congressman George Miller (CA) and Republican John Kline (MN), and signed into law by President Obama.
What many union members may not realize, however, is that the pension reform bill allowing the cuts was also supported by multiple union bosses—even to the extent that several wrote letters urging for passage of the reform measures.
According to a NRTW column:
The so-called “Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014” (MPRA) has been and continues to be harshly denounced in public by a number of union officials as well as by diehard Big Labor supporters in Congress like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
But the fact is, the MPRA could never have been adopted without the support of the bosses of multiple unions whose rank-and-file members now face “a massive cut in their pension benefits,” as Mr. Sanders, who is also seeking the 2016 Democrat presidential nomination, has put it.
In 2013, William Hite, general president of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry (UA), endorsed the original blueprint for the MPRA, known as “Solutions, Not Bailouts,” when it was issued by a commission on multi-employer pension reform.
Mr. Hite declared that the SNB proposal, essentially identical in key regards to the measure ultimately introduced by Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and John Kline (R-Minn.) and adopted by Congress, would make “retirement plans more secure.”
Tom Nyhan, executive director of the Teamster Union’s Central States, Southeast, & Southwest Areas Pension Fund, was unapologetic about the fact that the SNB plan would cut retiree benefits sharply:
“We are going — it’s not a question of if there are going to be benefit cuts. There are going to be benefit cuts. The question is when and how they are going to happen.”
Indeed, the National Coordinating Committee for Multi-Employer Plans, which has many highly-visible union officials on its board of directors and steering committee, was supportive of the pension “reforms.”
Several of the union leaders (below) even wrote to Congress urging passage of the pension reforms.
In one letter, Joe Nigro, President of the Sheetmetal workers’ union, SMART, stated:
We respect the views of those who say ERISA’s bedrock principle is the preservation of accrued benefits. That protection is an illusion once a plan is insolvent; accrued benefits will be reduced. Moreover, if PBGC is insolvent, its guarantee is not truly a “guarantee.”
In another letter, jointly signed by the now-retired president of the United Food & Commercial Workers union and the Chairman of Kroger, the signers stated:
Regaining solvency and self-sufficiency for these plans will not come without sacrifice. The only realistic way to avoid insolvency and preserve as much of the promised pension benefits as possible is to provide plan trustees the ability to, if necessary, reduce some of the accrued benefits – and only if such action will ensure the plan’s survival.