In a stinging defeat for the Democrats, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who is the co-chairman of the Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions and one of the key negotiators to craft new legislation, has agreed to severely narrow the Butch Lewis Act to a small category of plans. According to a statement from Brown’s office, “We have amended the bill to limit it to critical and declining plans as of the date of enactment and any critical plan as of enactment below 40% funded with an active to inactive ratio below 40%. MPRA plans and some currently insolvent plans remain eligible for the program.” In plain English, this means that the loan assistance program under Butch Lewis is now beyond the reach of the vast majority of multiemployer plans like the AFM-EPF.
The Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions conducted a hearing yesterday and made clear that it would now turn to crafting a legislative solution to the multiemployer pension crisis. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) stated that he and the Chairman of the Select Committee, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), had agreed that beginning next week, their respective staffs would be empowered to “get serious about negotiations,” to enable the Select Committee to “get close to real solutions in September.” Hatch added that the Select Committee will come together on a bill and that it would be to no one’s liking.
The Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions held a field hearing in Columbus Ohio on Friday July 13. The comments from the lawmakers made clear that unless there is more vocal support from Union members and retirees, the Butch Lewis Act is in trouble. The Butch Lewis Act would extend government guaranteed loans to plans like AFM-EPF, avoiding any necessity for cuts to accrued pension benefits.
As many of you know, the Butch Lewis Act would extend government guaranteed loans to plans like AFM-EPF, avoiding any necessity for cuts to accrued pension benefits. But a powerful lobbying organization that purports to represent the interests of multiemployer plans like the AFM-EPF wants to make the loan assistance program under Butch Lewis beyond the reach of plans like AFM-EPF. And they want to make it much easier for trustees to cut pensions when they want to.
The Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions conducted its third hearing yesterday and heard from two key witnesses who voiced support for the concept of government-sponsored loans as a means of shoring up failing multiemployer pension plans. However, the panelists also stated that they believed workers’ pensions should also be cut as part of the deal. The two key panelists were Chris Langan, a finance executive with United Parcel Service, and Aliya Wang, Executive Director of Retirement Policy for the United States Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying organization which represents the business sector.
On May 17, the Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions held a two-hour hearing on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Association (PBGC). The sole witness was Thomas Reeder, the current head of the PBGC.
First, a little background. The PBGC was created in 1974 when Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, ERISA, the purpose of which was to provide pension security to Americans. Pension security rested on two pillars. One pillar was the "anti-cut back rule" which provided that a pension already earned from past labor could not be cut. The second pillar was the PBGC, a Government sponsored insurer of last resort which would step in and pay pension benefits if the pension plan became insolvent. The idea was that, as President Gerald Ford said when signing ERISA into law, “the retirement dollars will be there when they are needed.”
On April 18 the Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions held a two-hour hearing at which the panel heard from two experts who provided a briefing on the history and dimensions of the multiemployer pension problem. By design there was little discussion of possible legislative fixes to the problem. The panel wanted to understand the problem first.