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Thanks to multiemployer pension relief included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, approximately 1,600 SMART members in the Sheet Metal Workers Pension Fund based in Massillon, Ohio will have their pension cuts fully restored, including full earned benefit in their monthly checks moving forward.
“This is definitely going to solve our problem,” SMART Local 33 (northern Ohio) Business Rep. Jerry Durieux told local newspaper The Repository. “This is hope for the future, that’s for sure.”
Unions and pro-labor politicians had been pushing for multiemployer pension security – in the form of a special financial assistance fund – for years, with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown introducing it in the Butch Lewis Act multiple times since 2017. Only once a pro-worker majority and presidential administration assumed elected office could the Act – named after a legendary Ohio Teamster – be passed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan. Together with other provisions in the legislation, including funding for indoor air quality, the American Rescue Plan is already proving to be one of the most groundbreaking laws ever passed for working Americans.
“After years of advocacy by workers, retirees, and small business owners in Ohio, Democrats in Congress and this Administration finally saved the pensions that union workers in Massillon earned over a lifetime, with no cuts,” said Senator Brown in a press release announcing the pension relief. “This pension fix will help local workers and the small businesses they work with to grow and continue providing living wages and dignified work for Ohioans.”
Funding from the legislation has already saved 550,306 pensions nationwide, with millions more eligible. Furthermore, along with pension restoration for retirees, pension protection funding in the American Rescue Plan will put the Ohio Sheet Metal Workers Pension Fund on the path to solvency going forward – helping to secure the future benefits of active SMART sheet metal workers.
In April 2021, we met with Steve Dodd and Greg Hynes to talk about the first 100 days of the Biden administration. We have brought them back for this Talking SMART episode to talk about the first year of the administration and, more specifically, its impact on SMART members.
Brother Dodd is SMART’s Director of Governmental Affairs. He spoke with us about the many actions the Biden administration has already taken to support working families, including positive impacts of the passage of the American Rescue Plan on COBRA, unemployment benefits, multiemployer pensions, and funding for school HVAC retrofits.
He also discussed the PRO Act and what it means for SMART members to have so many labor friendly people now appointed to top positions in the Biden administration.
“This president has done something that all presidents have always talked about but never were able to accomplish,” said Dodd. “This Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, and now its implementation, means a great deal to not only sheet metal workers but all workers, whether they’re union or nonunion, across the United States.”
Brother Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and SMART TD’s National Legislative Director. He discussed how the Biden Administration, in contrast to the previous administration, now very much has an open door for labor and actively seeks input from unions on issues of concern to working families.
“The most obvious are the appointments and the people that President Biden has surrounded himself with,” said Hynes. “He’s actually put competent people in charge of these agencies. And they are all very labor friendly, I mean, it comes from the top down.”
Greg also touched on how the American Rescue Plan included funding to rehire furloughed Amtrak workers, the significance of new leadership at the Federal Rail Administration which is now re-prioritizing rail safety over corporate profits, and what it really means when politicians or rail carriers say we need to just “cut back on regulations.”
In addition, listen for the open mic segment with SMART General President Joseph Sellers at the end of this episode. He responds to multiple questions that have come in from SMART members asking about what steps the Biden-Harris administration has taken to address the multiemployer pension crisis.
In the June 2021 Talking SMART episode, we dug into freight rail safety issues that affect both railroad workers and the safety of communities around the country. Our featured guests were SMART Transportation Division Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo and former Transportation Division Nebraska State Legislative Director Bob Borgeson.
Brother Dragoo followed his father into the railroad industry and hired on as a conductor for Union Pacific in 2005. He has served as a legislative representative of Local 1503 in Marysville, Kansas, been the state’s legislative director since 2010 and helped lead efforts to create a transportation safety task force in his state. Ty spoke with us about his work in Kansas, including two-person crew legislation and the downsides of so-called precision scheduled railroad.
Brother Borgeson represented SMART in a state – Nebraska – with a high concentration of Transportation Division members, where he worked to bring greater public attention to the important work our members do. Bob spoke with us about the negative impacts of long trains, efforts to move two-person crew legislation in Nebraska, and the innovative media and outreach tools SMART has used recently to bring attention to key rail safety issues in his state.
In addition, listen for the open mic segment with SMART General President Joseph Sellers at the end of this episode. He responded to multiple questions that have come in from SMART members asking about what steps the Biden-Harris administration has taken to address the multiemployer pension crisis.
“Strong unions built the great American middle class. Everything that defines what it means to live a good life and know you can take care of your family — the 40-hour workweek, paid leave, health care protections, a voice in your workplace — is because of workers who organized unions and fought for worker protections.”
The words above could have been written or spoken by any of thousands of union organizers or leaders across the United States in recent decades. They could be part of the narration to a union video or the rousing prelude to a call-to-action at a union rally. But they aren’t. Instead, they come from the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign website, which is peppered with promises to stand with regular working Americans, support the creation of good union jobs and strengthen collective bargaining and worker organizing. We know campaign promises are one thing… and post-election actions and reality are another. So, what has the Biden-Harris Administration done for workers thus far? Are they walking their pro-worker talk? Below is a summary of actions to help working Americans under the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration:
President Biden Fired Aggressively Anti-Union NLRB General Counsel
Just hours after his inauguration, President Biden took the unprecedented step of firing the sitting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Robb, who had been blasted as an anti-union zealot. During Robb’s tenure at the NLRB, the board significantly expanded employers’ powers, allowing them to search workers’ cars and personal items, eject union organizers from public spaces, withdraw union recognition more easily, discriminate against union members in the workplace, thwart protests, and disregard the rights of workers at subcontractors and franchises, among other harm done to workers’ rights. His assistant, who took over in his place and shares the same views, was next in line to replace him. Biden terminated her immediately thereafter. One of Robb’s priorities had been to try and limit the legality of Project Labor Agreements. Two suits filed by Robb aimed to create new case law on PLAs, which would have had disastrous impacts on work hours for all construction union members. They were rescinded by Robb’s Biden-appointed replacement.
Biden-Harris Administration Issued Emergency Safety Protection Order
On Day 2, President Biden underscored that worker safety will be a top priority under his administration, signing an executive order directing OSHA to produce “clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure.” This action aimed to save lives and protect workers who regularly face dangerous conditions while serving their communities during the pandemic. Strong enforceable standards built into the order require employers to develop workplace safety plans, implement science-based protection measures, train workers and report workplace COVID outbreaks.
Biden Appoints Amit Bose to Replace Former Rail CEO Ron Batory Atop FRA
On Jan. 21, President Biden appointed Amit Bose, who had served as deputy administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) during the Obama administration, to the same position for his administration. Bose later was elevated to the position of FRA acting administrator and is in line to become the permanent FRA administrator. “We’re excited to be working with Amit Bose,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes. “We’ve had several conversations and he understands and supports our issues. It’s a welcome new day for rail labor.
New Administration Set $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors
President Biden signed an executive order that ordered the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to establish a $15 minimum wage for all federal contractors.
President Biden Selected Union Steelworker to Lead OSHA
President Biden selected former United Steelworkers’ safety official James Frederick to lead the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), signaling a commitment to tougher federal enforcement of workplace safety standards as the nation continues to battle a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over 500,000 Americans. Frederick worked for 25 years in the Steelworkers’ health, safety, and environment department.
President Picked Building Trades Official to Lead Wage and Hour Division
Jessica Looman was the executive director of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council before she was selected to head the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. She previously worked as general counsel for the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. In between, she served as the deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Her appointment is of particular importance and offers a very stark contrast with the previous administration, which issued an eleventh hour change to prevailing wage laws. If kept in place, the change would have had a disastrous impact on prevailing wages, pricing out high-road signatory contractors from projects. The change also would have given employers on public projects the leeway to pay someone performing commercial work the residential wage instead, which typically would be significantly lower.
President Selected Union Attorney to Lead FLRA
President Biden promoted union attorney Ernest Dubster to be the chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). This agency oversees disputes between the federal government and federal unions. Dubster previously worked as legislative counsel for the AFL-CIO and as a law professor teaching collective bargaining and arbitration.
President Fired Entire Anti-Union Federal Labor Board
President Biden’s work to rid the government of Trump’s anti-union appointees continued with his decision to oust the 10 members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP). This panel decides contract disputes between federal unions and the government. It was stacked with anti-union picks that included leaders from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which crafts “right-to-work” (for less) legislation for state elected officials, as well as bills aimed at eliminating prevailing wages (including the infamous Act 10 bill in Wisconsin). The board also included appointees from the Heritage Foundation, and another individual from a top union-busting law firm. President Biden offered the 10 appointees the chance to resign, which eight did. The other two were fired. When those appointees were on the board, the government won 90% of the cases that came before the FSIP — meaning federal employee unions won only 10%.
President Biden Issued Buy American Executive Order That Closed Previous Loopholes
While the Trump administration used the right-sounding “Buy American” words and rhetoric, it never put into place policies to effect meaningful change regarding the purchase of American-made goods and services. Five days into office, President Biden signed an executive order that directed the federal government to strengthen its Buy American standards. This required more of the product to be made in the United States, cut red tape for buying these items, and made it easier for small and medium sized manufacturers to get federal contracts. The government spends about $600 billion a year on American-made products and is expected to add another $400 billion as part of Biden’s Build Back Better program.
President Named Far More Labor-Friendly NLRB General Counsel
The week after firing Peter Robb as NLRB general counsel, President Biden named Peter Sung Ohr as the NRLB’s acting general counsel. A career NLRB attorney, Ohr had been the board’s regional director of Region 13 in Chicago. Now as the NLRB’s top attorney, he gets to choose many of the cases the board hears and write directives that tell regional offices how the NLRB should enforce the law. In his first week on the job, Ohr repealed a dozen Trump-era anti-worker directives that had targeted unions. He also threw out a case that would have prevented unions from negotiating commonsense neutrality agreements with employers.
President Issued Order to End Federal Private Prisons
Near the end of his first week in office, President Biden issued an executive order directing the federal government to stop contracting with private prisons. Private prisons are for-profit ventures that reduce prison employee wages and take jobs from union corrections officers. Training and security standards are often much lower at private prisons. According to a 2012 study by The Sentencing Project, private prison employees earn an average of over $5,000 less than government employee prison staff and receive 58 fewer hours of training, leading to higher employee turnover and decreased prison security. In addition, a 2016 Justice Department report found that private prisons had a 28 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults and more than twice as many inmate-on-staff assaults. According to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents employees with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, federal prisons staffed by union employees are “more cost-effective, more efficient and much safer than their for-profit counterparts.”
Biden Signed Executive Order Calling for Union Labor to Build New Climate Infrastructure
Realizing that the shift to clean energy is a tremendous opportunity to create jobs, President Biden signed an executive order directing the federal government to lead the way by focusing public dollars on American-made products, including renewable energy goods and clean vehicles, and that high labor standards be attached to every federal incentive for clean energy. The president also explicitly called for investments communities that produce coal and other fossil-fuels to create good jobs in new industries and by cleaning up abandoned mines and wells.
President Biden Signed Order Mandating Masks on Interstate Travel
President Biden underscored his commitment to the safety of air, rail and transit employees and passengers with a mask mandate that covers anyone who flies, takes a passenger train like Amtrak, or travels on busses such as Greyhound or Peter Pan that cross state lines. This order was followed up on January 29 by the Centers for Disease Control, as directed by the president, and imposes a mask requirement on all public transportation systems including rail, vans, bus and motorcoach services.
In an announcement of the order sent to Federal Railroad Administration stakeholders and partners on January 31, an FRA representative wrote the following: “Science-based measures are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Mask-wearing is one of several proven life-saving measures, including physical distancing, appropriate ventilation and timely testing that can reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Requiring masks will protect America’s transportation workers and passengers, help control the transmission of COVID-19, and aid in re-opening America’s economy.”
Per Biden’s Order, OSHA Released New COVID-19 Safety Guidance
OSHA issued enhanced COVID-19 safety guidance to help employers and their employees implement a COVID-19 prevention program and better identify risks that could lead to exposure and infection.
Employee Advocate Appointed Senior Advisor on Unemployment Insurance
The Biden-Harris administration selected Michele Evermore for the newly created role of senior advisor on unemployment insurance within the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration. Evermore previously worked as a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a non-profit that supports low-wage and unemployed workers. Evermore has been a prominent pro-worker voice throughout the pandemic, both as an expert in explaining the federal assistance available to workers, and as a vigorous advocate who addresses the inequities of unemployment assistance.
U.S. House Passed National Apprenticeship Act
With this new bill, union-sponsored registered apprenticeships will not only continue strengthening economic opportunities in every community, both large and small, they will also open pathways for more industries to recruit, train and expand productive and highly-skilled workforces.
President Biden Nominated Labor Attorney to Serve as NLRB General Counsel
President Biden appointed Jennifer Abbruzo, special counsel for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and highly respected within the labor movement, to serve as the NLRB’s new general counsel. During her labor career, she provided legal counsel on numerous initiatives that advanced worker power. She previously served as deputy general counsel and acting general counsel at the NLRB. In her nearly 23 years with the agency, she helped to protect workers’ rights from numerous corporate attacks. Once confirmed, she will replace acting General Counsel Peter Sung Ohr.
Biden-Harris Moved to Eliminate IRAPs
In mid-February, the Biden-Harris Administration restricted funding for Industry Recognized Apprenticeships (IRAPs), an important step in rolling them back entirely. IRAPS are a dangerous initiative inspired by anti-union contractors aimed at undermining high-quality union apprenticeship programs and replacing them with a watered-down system of certifications. The IRAP program was the most serious political attack on building trades unions in over a generation. Cutting off IRAP funding is an important step in the fight to roll them back. Through his actions, President Biden took important steps to eliminate this existential threat to union apprenticeships. The Biden-Harris administration also brought back the Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship, which provides much-needed industry-based input on policy, quality assurance standards and equitable enforcement.
FRA Closed Comment Period on Proposed Rail Worker Fatigue Regulations
On Feb. 22, comments closed for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for which the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sought input on how to address the problem of rail worker fatigue. The regulations would require certain railroads to develop and implement a “fatigue risk management program” as one component of their larger safety programs. The notice and closing of the comment period shows movement by the Biden-Harris administration on a long-delayed component of the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA), which requires railroads to create safety risk reduction programs to address the hazards that railroad workers face on a regular basis. SMART-TD filed its comments in conjunction with another union representing rail operating personnel ahead of the comment deadline.
Biden Signed Order Allowing Unions at DOD
The Defense Department employs about 700,000 civilian workers, about half of which are unionized. An executive order from the previous administration allowed the Secretary of Defense to eliminate collective bargaining rights for those employees at the DOD secretary’s discretion. An executive order by President Biden reversed this anti-union directive.
Biden Order Allowed DOL to Extend Unemployment Benefits to Those Who Refuse Work Due to COVID Concerns
Under the Biden-Harris administration, the Department of Labor released guidance extending unemployment benefits to workers who refuse to return to a job that is unsafe. The benefits eligibility now applies in circumstances where a worker refuses to return to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite that, in either instance, “is not in compliance with local, state, or national health and safety standards directly related to COVID-19.” These health and safety standards include those related to the wearing of face coverings, physical distancing, and the provision of personal protective equipment consistent with public health guidelines. This extended eligibility is specific to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a type of benefit created and federally funded by the 2020 CARES Act. PUA covers self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and other workers who are not covered by traditional unemployment insurance programs.
Major Court Victory for Freight Rail Labor Blocked Trump FRA Policy
In a legal victory that underscored the importance of electing presidents who will pick judges who understand worker issues, soon after President Biden was inaugurated, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit put common sense and safety ahead of profits and political favoritism. By vacating action by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under the Trump administration to preempt all state laws and regulations concerning freight train crew size, the court ruling overturned one of the most blatant attacks on workers from the previous administration. While the decision was not a direct result of actions by the Biden Administration — the 3–0 ruling was made by judges nominated by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — the actions of President Biden and his appointees point toward a far more receptive audience in the nation’s capitol in the fight to maintain two-person crews.
Biden Announced Support for Amazon Organizing Drive
By announcing his support for Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama seeking to form a union, President Biden became the first president in over 70 years to come out strongly in support of a major union organizing drive. The last president who articulated this type of support was Franklin D Roosevelt. While the Alabama warehouse workers lost their election in April, the campaign — and the president’s public support — inspired them and other Amazon workers across the country.
House Passed Right-to-Organize Bill with White House Support
On March 9, the U.S. House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which is the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression. Among other improvements and reforms to outdated U.S. labor laws, it will:
Help ensure workers who win union recognition can reach a first contract quickly.
End employers’ ability to hire permanent replacements to punish striking workers.
Enhance the NLRB’s power to fine companies that violate labor law, up to $50,000 per violation.
Weaken so-called “right-to-work” laws in the 27 states that allow employees who benefit from union contracts to choose not to join or pay union dues.
In early March, President Biden encouraged Congress to pass the PRO Act and the House swiftly passed it. The president had articulated his support for labor law reforms during his campaign, but with the PRO Act now introduced in Congress, his support is a powerful tool in helping ensure that all Democratic Senators support the bill. As of press time, the bill was the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The American Rescue Plan
On March 11, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The act is a $1.9 trillion relief plan that will jumpstart the American economy. It puts real money behind the president’s commitment to defeat the COVID-19 virus and to build back the U.S. economy back better than it was before the pandemic. This critical relief package has already delivered desperately needed federal support for hard-working Americans and will help rebuild our shattered economy with provisions that directly benefit SMART members. The plan includes resources for COVID testing, logistics, vaccine production and distribution to save lives and reopen America. It secures health care coverage, extends unemployment benefits and provides direct cash support for tens of millions of American families. It also delivers badly needed state and local aid to safely reopen schools and keep our bus and transit systems safe. In addition, the legislation allocates $170 billion to education, with much of that funding targeted to updating ventilation systems — putting sheet metal members to work as we monitor air quality and retrofit those same buildings to rebuild America’s aging HVAC systems. For SMART brothers and sisters on Amtrak who were idled due to no fault of their own, $2 billion is provided to re-open routes and get them back to work.
Multiemployer Pension Relief
Included in the American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden is a provision allocating $86 billion for multiemployer pension plans facing financial uncertainty. Under the legislation, eligible plans will receive funding in an amount sufficient to ensure that full benefits are paid for the next 30 years, without any benefit reductions or any repayment obligations. Hundreds of multiemployer plans that cover millions of union members and retirees stand to benefit (SMART’s pension plans are currently financially healthy). “Reckless Wall Street behavior, industry deregulation and employer abuse of corporate bankruptcy have threatened the financial security of millions who’ve worked hard, only to have that promise stolen from them,” said SMART General President Joseph Sellers in his March 2021 video message to members. “We now have a president who supports workers, retirees and their union. This administration put that commitment of ‘guarantee’ back into the ‘Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation’ ” — without cuts to accrued benefits or taxation.”
Former Union Leader Confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor
On March 22, the U.S. Senate confirmed Marty Walsh as the U.S. Secretary of Labor. Known primarily for his work as the mayor of Boston, Mass. Walsh was previously a rank and file member of LIUNA who worked his way up in the trade. His appointment by the Biden-Harris Administration puts a union member in charge of the Labor Department for the first time in decades.
Biden Nominated Nation’s First Made in America Director
On April 28, President Biden named Celeste Drake as the nation’s first Made in America Director. The new position will shape and implement federal procurement and financial management policy to help carry out the president’s vision of future manufacturing focused on ensuring goods are made in America by American workers. Drake joins the administration from the Directors Guild of America, where she served as the executive in charge of government affairs. Prior to joining the DGA, she served as the trade and globalization policy specialist for the AFL-CIO, where she led efforts to reform the labor rules found in NAFTA and the USMCA and to reform the process by which Congress oversees and approves trade agreements to protect American jobs.
Back in January, we met with Steve Dodd and Greg Hynes to talk about the 2020 election and what to expect from the Biden-Harris administration. We have brought them back for this Talking SMART episode to talk about the first 100 days of the administration and, more specifically, its impact on SMART members.
Brother Dodd is SMART’s Director of Governmental Affairs. He spoke with us about the many actions the Biden administration has already taken to support working families, including positive impacts of the passage of the American Rescue Plan on COBRA, unemployment benefits, multiemployer pensions, and funding for school HVAC retrofits. He also discussed the PRO Act and what it means for SMART members to have so many labor friendly people now appointed to top positions in the Biden administration.
Brother Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and SMART TD’s National Legislative Director. He discussed how the Biden Administration, in contrast to the previous administration, now very much has an open door for labor and actively seeks input from unions on issues of concern to working families. Greg also touched on how the American Rescue Plan included funding to rehire furloughed Amtrak workers, the significance of new leadership at the Federal Rail Administration which is now re-prioritizing rail safety over corporate profits, and what it really means when politicians or rail carriers say we need to just “cut back on regulations.”
In addition, listen for the open mic segment with SMART General President Joseph Sellers at the end of this episode. He responds to multiple questions that have come in from SMART members asking about what steps the Biden-Harris administration has taken to address the multiemployer pension crisis.
Your help is needed to get the word out to certain members of Congress who want to take pension money from our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters and other union workers covered by multi-employer pension plans.
A decade ago, in the midst of the Great Recession, SMART and other multi-employer pension plans had the foresight to take steps to make sure they could meet their necessary obligations even during a period of financial collapse. These steps involved sacrifice on the part of these plan participants and resulted in solvent and stable pension plans able to meet their obligations for years to come.
However, there is a minority of pension plans covering about 1 million participants that did not make these changes, and these pensions could run out of money in the future. In addition, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), which serves as a safety net for financially troubled pensions, is having money troubles of its own. It could be insolvent within a decade.
To address these shortfalls, Congress has convened a Joint Select Committee to consider ways to resolve the potential insolvencies. But the draft plan being considered by this Congressional committee could punish healthy and solvent pensions, like the one covering SMART members, for the sake of solving the financial shortfalls of the failing pensions and the PBGC.
Politicians need to know that this plan is not acceptable, and we ask that you make it clear that another solution, one that does not take money away from solvent plans, must be found.
Our SMART brothers and sisters need our help, please call. You also can text PENSION to 21233 and to be connected directly to your congressional office. Message and data rates apply for that service.
Congressman Richard E. Neal – Massachusetts 1st 202-225-5601
Congressman Donald Norcross – New Jersey 1st 202-225-6501
Congressman Bobby Scott – Virginia 3rd 202-225-8351
Senator Orrin Hatch – Utah (Co-Chair) 202-224-5251
Senator Lamar Alexander – Tennessee 202-224-4494
Senator Michael Crapo – Idaho 202-224-6142
Senator Rob Portman – Ohio 202-224-3353
Senator Sherrod Brown – Ohio (Co-Chair) 202-224-2315
Senator Heidi Heitkamp – North Dakota 202-224-2043
Senator Joe Manchin – West Virginia 202-224-3954
Senator Tina Smith – Minnesota 202-224-5641
A suggested script for your call to Congress:
My name is ___________ and I am a member of SMART Transportation Division Local ____. My union brothers and sisters in the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers participate in a multi-employer defined benefit pension fund.
I am calling today to voice my strong opposition to the current proposal of the Joint Select Committee. This proposal attempts to infuse money into the broken PBGC on the backs of healthy pension plans and forces the funding status of well-performing funds to go backward.
My union does not endorse this proposal, nor do I. We expect any friend of labor to stand with us on this position.
SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch addressed the National Association of Retired and Veteran Railway Employees (NARVRE) in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on May 21, touching on the current national political climate and the need for retirees to step up to protect what is rightfully theirs amid renewed attacks on unions. “What is happening in D.C. is what I call ‘an erosion of civility,'” Risch told attendees at NARVRE’s 41st Biennial Convention at the Hilton Garden Inn. “Add to that erosion the closeness of the numbers in each house of Congress, and you have a keen focus on the next election, not a keen focus on what’s right for our country.” An explosion in deficit spending caused by the tax cuts and spending bills passed by Congress at the end of last year once again has fueled talk by some politicians of cutting so-called entitlements. Politicians’ eyes see the nest egg of Railroad Retirement — the result of the hard work of current and past railroaders — and would love to dive into that pension plan, Risch told the retirees. NARVRE, an advocacy group out of Mississippi, has worked to preserve Railroad Retirement benefits for more than 80 years for members of all rail unions. “When Speaker Paul Ryan and his crew talk about the need to rein in ‘entitlements,’ you need to know that what they want to cut is your Railroad Retirement benefits and reduce your Medicare coverage,” he said. “Something you already paid for, but since the government used the money for things like tax cuts for the railroads, they want to break the agreements that were made with all of us.” Those attacks should rouse retirees and active workers alike to action, Risch said. “When the debt and deficit debate starts in earnest, we need NARVRE, and more importantly, NARVRE members to shout out: ‘No to any cuts in our pension, Medicare and Medicaid.’ Our union, of course, will be there, but we can’t do it alone,” Risch said. “Your grassroots response is the only thing that will stop substantial cuts to these vital safety nets.” Greedy corporate interests also are looking to tear unions down these days. The Janus case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court could kill “union security clauses,” allowing those who don’t pay dues to leech off public unions, he told attendees. “It’s Janus and public employees today, and the rest of us will be next,” Risch said. Other threats include the potential of automation to further whittle away railroad jobs and for politicians to eliminate Amtrak in the name of savings. These scenarios would have a catastrophic effect on Railroad Retirement’s sustainability. But speaking out can help preserve what Risch calls the “crown jewel” that rail workers created. “It’s not NARVRE or the rail unions that will protect our pension,” he said. “It’s the grassroots efforts of our members and people like all of you in this room — people who demand of their congressional delegation that Amtrak gets the money it needs; who demand that Congress keep their hands off our Railroad Retirement and Medicare,” Risch said. “The good news is very few Americans are politically active, meaning those that are have far more clout then they should. So I’m calling on each of you to use that clout. Call your elected representatives, attend their town hall meetings and speak out. That’s what’s effective.”
Buried in the $1.1 trillion spending bill that President Barack Obama signed into law is a provision that would allow the benefits of retired truckers, construction workers and others who contributed to so-called multi-employer pensions to be cut for the first time.
This change — potentially affecting as many as 1.5 million current and future retirees in underfunded plans, mostly union workers — will undoubtedly set off volleys of finger-pointing to find a culprit for the accelerating collapse of the system. Many commentators will blame unions for extorting extravagant, unsustainable retirement packages from employers that are now falling apart. But it’s not so simple. In fact, the long, tangled history of U.S. private pensions is equally a story of how business sought to manage labor, conserve profits and block the expansion of a modern welfare state.
Research by historians such as Jennifer Klein and Steven Sass helps explain why the United States is almost unique in its reliance on private, company-sponsored pensions instead of comprehensive, government-sponsored benefits.
LANSING, Mich. – Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group supported by the Koch brothers, has launched an effort to torpedo a proposed settlement in the Detroit bankruptcy case, potentially complicating chances for completing the deal just as its prospects seemed to be improving.
The organization, formed to fight big government and spending, is contacting 90,000 conservatives in Michigan and encouraging them to rally against a plan to provide $195 million in state money to help settle Detroit pension holders’ claims in the case, a key element of the deal.