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Pensions of retirees, widows face cuts in action by House of Representatives

AARP. Pension Rights Center, labor unions trying to build last-minute opposition

Dec. 10, 2014 – While most seniors were focused on Thanksgiving with their families and then getting ready for Christmas, some members of the U.S. House of Representative have hit them with a nightmare… a reduction in pension benefits for those already retired or their widows. This amendment is rapidly moving forward but senior advocates are swinging into action to motivate senior citizens to let their voices be heard.

At issue is an effort led by Reps. John Kline and George Miller, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, to bring reforms to troubled multiemployer pensions.

“This last minute backroom deal would, for the first time, amend the pension law to allow the earned vested benefits of retirees to be cut,” declared Joyce Rogers, AARP Senior Vice President, in a statement in opposition to the Kline-Miller amendment to the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, an amendment that the Los Angeles Times says “could be a disaster” that would potentially harm millions of current retirees.

“After a lifetime of hard work to earn their pensions, retirees don’t deserve to receive a bad deal, in which they’ve had no say, cut behind closed doors and excluding the very people who would be impacted most, Rogers said.”


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The Pension Rights Center has been among the most active in this battle. Executive Vice President Karen Friedman unsuccessfully urged the House Rules Committee not to include the legislation cutting retiree pensions in the omnibus spending bill. 

“The Pension Rights Center and retirees across this country are outraged that Congress, in a last-minute, behind–closed-doors deal, is about to pass a 161-page piece of legislation that will allow trustees in financially-troubled multiemployer plans to cut the pensions of hundreds of thousands of retirees and widows,” said Friedman.

“Given that even the most challenged plan, the Central States Teamster Pension Fund, is not projected to run out of money for 10 to15 years, we do not understand why Congress rushed to pass such draconian legislation in the final days of the lame-duck session – without debate, without public hearings, without the input of the vulnerable retirees who stand to lose as much as 60 percent of their hard-earned retirement benefits.”

The AARP’s Rogers also sent a letter last week to members of the House and Senate.

On behalf of AARP’s nearly 38 million members, we urge that you do not adopt as part of year-end spending legislation a proposal that impairs a fundamental tenet of pension law and permits multiemployer pension plans to cut the earned and vested pension benefits of current retirees.

Making significant and far-reaching changes to pension law without scrutiny of the legislative proposal and with no opportunity for debate or amendment is unacceptable.  This is all the more true given that the proposal may result in a significant reduction in the modest income of millions of retirees.” (Read the entire letter.)

She also urged seniors to call Congress at 1-844-259-9351 to ask their representative to oppose this amendment.

The Pension Rights Center’s Friedman also added, "It is a travesty that, in the year of the 40th anniversary of the landmark pension law, ERISA, Congress is about to sweep away a central tenet of the law – that, once pension benefits are earned, they cannot be reduced or cut back.

“Even when multiemployer plans face difficulties, retirees’ pensions are given the strongest protections under the law. Only when multiemployer plans run completely out of money, then – and only then – does the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation step in to assist these plans, and retirees’ benefits are reduced to the low government guaranty level.”

Opponents - including the United Steelworkers union, the Laborers' International Union of North America, the AARP, and the Pension Rights Center - suggest that such a major decision by Congress should undergo hearings and other public airings and not be made in the waning days of a lame-duck session as an attachment to a spending bill.

>> Facts About Multiemployer Pension Plan Funding and Proposed Cuts – By Pension Rights Center



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