UPDATE on the Butch Lewis Act

Unfortunately, the Butch Lewis Act did not make it into the bipartisan budget deal the U.S. Senate passed last week. However, this is no reason to give up hope. As a compromise, a bipartisan House and Senate Joint Select Committee, led by Senator Sherrod Brown, will be tasked with coming up with a solution to the pension crisis by the last week of November 2018. You can read the details about the committee on his website here.
 

New Court Filing Offers Play by Play Account of Trustees’ Decision Making

On December 1, 2017, an amended complaint in the lawsuit filed by AFM Local 802 members Andy Snitzer and Paul Livant was filed in Federal District Court, Southern District of New York. For those interested in understanding what happened to our pensions, this court filing provides a play by play account, from 2009-2016, of the decision making by our trustees and fund administrator that led to the current state of our pension fund. It tells a story of poor investment decision making, attempts to time the stock market and payments, to multiple investment managers, of millions of dollars for little return.

How the AFM-EPF's Investment Fees Actually Measure Up (Updated 12/17)

As we know all too well, the trustees spin the facts, especially when assessing their own performance. Everything they say must be checked thoroughly. So, when the trustees recently made a major statement about how low the AFM-EPF’s investment fees are, we checked it out. And not surprisingly, we found their statement failed to tell the whole story. 
In their December 9 email, they point out that their investment fees compare favorably with averages contained in a broad industry study performed by Greenwich Associates. Since the Greenwich Associates study is only available to high paying subscribers (and that does not include MPS), we thought we would simply compare the AFM-EPF investment expenses to the peer group in the entertainment industry.[1] In any event, we think the peer comparison provides a more accurate measurement than a broad, ill-defined industry study.
We took the industry standard measurement, which is the ratio of investment fees[2] to assets under management. It turns out that AFM-EPF investment fees are 84.3% higher than the mean[3] for the entertainment industry peer group:

AFM-EPF Trustees Find New Ways to Spend Your Pension Dollars

Participants in the AFM-EPF Pension Plan have recently begun receiving e-mails from Geoff Garen, President of the well-known Washington DC polling and political strategy firm Hart Associates. They are offering $100 to musicians to participate in focus groups: “We believe the insights you possess and the experiences you have had would be extremely valuable to the Fund as it seeks to better understand the perspective of plan participants and to provide them with helpful and timely information about the fund.”

MPS Analysis and Response to the 12/9 AFM-EPF Newsletter

When our trustees sent out a letter one year ago in December of 2016 disclosing for the first time that it was quite possible that we could be facing cuts to our existing benefits as soon as spring 2017 there was a lot of confusion, unanswered questions, and shock. In the months following, when many AFM members looked to our elected leaders and trustees for help, information and a plan. It became clear that our elected leaders were not going to help and that we would have to deal with the pension crisis ourselves. A group of concerned musicians organized to address the ongoing pension crisis and founded Musicians for Pension Security. Our mission statement from the beginning has been clear and simple: We have come together in search of more information about the state of our pension and, ultimately, to demand more transparency and accountability from the AFM-EPF Trustees. With input and participation from plan participants across the country, we will be able to speak with one unified voice working towards a sustainable long-term plan for a secure pension.  

Trustees Tout Expense Cuts But Behind Closed Doors it's Another Story

Recently posted in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the AFM-EPF website is a highly important new disclosure that the trustees have hired Cambridge Associates as an “Outside Chief Investment Officer” (OCIO). This is an important development because it puts in perspective just how out of touch the AFM-EPF trustees are in December 2017. They are not replacing Meketa, our fund investment consultant since 2010, but they are adding another layer of management and expense heaped on top of what is already the bloated administration of our pension fund. It is no wonder that the expenses of the AFM-EPF are by far the highest in our industry. Our trustees spent over $250 million over the last 10 years, with an investment return that is dead last in the business. (The 3 and 5-year returns are also at the bottom of the peer group. See our previous article about these numbers here.)

AFM Endorses Butch Lewis Act, Still Waiting on AFM-EPF Trustees

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After months of sustained pressure culminating with thousands of calls and emails to President Ray Hair, the AFM has just officially endorsed the Butch Lewis Act of 2017. We commend them for this act.  It is finally a step in the right direction.

However, it is important to note that the AFM and the AFM-EPF are two separate entities. It took months to just get our union to come out publicly in support the Butch Lewis Act. There is still work to be done. We now need to demand that all the AFM-EPF trustees endorse the Butch Lewis Act, not just our union.

More importantly, we must also see to it that the AFM-EPF trustees cooperate with Senator Sherrod Brown's staff. They have repeatedly asked for the trustees to provide actuarial projections. When received, that data will be analyzed by Senator Brown’s actuaries to show how his proposal could benefit our AFM pension fund. To date, the AFM-EPF has not delivered.

We cannot rest easy with the AFM's support of the Butch Lewis Act alone. While it is important, and we are grateful to have it, what we really need is the full commitment of our AFM-EPF trustees toward this important effort.

One thing is clear, our collective voices have been heard! The coming weeks will show plan participants just how serious the AFM and the AFM-EPF trustees are in supporting the Butch Lewis Act.

MPS wants to thank all of you for the constant support and hard work. Monday's calls to President Hair turned into an AFM endorsement of the Butch Lewis Act on Friday. Without your help, it would have not been possible!  

AFM-EPF Trustees Have Deep Ties to NCCMP

National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP) is a trade association of multi-employer plans in Washington DC. In 2014, they were instrumental in formulating and passing MPRA, which is the law that would allow cuts to our hard-earned pension benefits. Our pension fund, the AFM-EPF, has deep connections to the NCCMP going back many years. The AFM-EPF is a dues-paying member of NCCMP and our AFM trustees attend their conferences every year. Two of our trustees, Christopher Brockmeyer and Bill Moriarity, serve on NCCMP’s Board of Directors and Steering Committee. Both have given lectures at those conferences. Brockmeyer, the AFM-EPF’s trustee co-chair, served on the NCCMP working group which formulated the MPRA proposal. 

All You Need to Know about The Butch Lewis Act of 2017

The “Butch Lewis Act of 2017” and its House companion bill “The Rehabilitation of Multiemployer Pensions Act," introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown, provide an innovative way to avoid retiree benefit reductions by providing relief to financially-troubled plans.

These bills set up a new office in the Treasury Department called the Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA), which would receive proceeds from the issuance of Treasury bonds. This money would then be lent to financially-troubled plans as long as they meet certain criteria. The Pension Rights Center is particularly pleased that the loans would be used to fully pay the benefits of retirees and that the bill would require plans, which have already been approved to cut benefits under MPRA, to apply for these new loans and if approved, use that money to restore previously suspended benefits.

Senator Sherrod Brown’s office has sent MPS the summary, FAQ and the full legislation related to The Butch Lewis Act of 2017. To view, click the links below.

The Butch Lewis Act of 2017 summary.
The Butch Lewis Act of 2017 FAQ.
The Butch Lewis Act of 2017 full legislation.

Senator Sherrod Brown and Congressman Richard Neal Introduce bills to save financially troubled multiemployer plans and protect retirees
http://www.pensionrights.org/newsroom/releases/senator-sherrod-brown-and-congressman-richard-neal-introduce-bills-save-financiall

Teamsters Support Brown-Neal Legislation to Solve Pension Crisis
https://teamster.org/news/2017/11/teamsters-support-brown-neal-legislation-solve-pension-crisis

Will AFM-EPF Trustees Act on New Pension Legislation?

Just last week, on November 16, many of you received the email from AFM President Ray Hair regarding recently proposed legislation to assist multiemployer pension funds by US Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). In the email, President Hair says: 

"I have been in direct communication with Senator Brown's staff regarding this legislation. Now that the legislation has officially been introduced, the Trustees of American Federation of Musicians and Employers' Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) will carefully review its specifics to determine if it addresses the issues confronting the AFM-EPF..."

Encouraging words, but so far the Trustees' position on this potentially very helpful piece of legislation has been extremely skeptical.

The Truth About AFM-EPF Expenses

Musicians for Pension Security has found more manipulation of the facts by AFM-EPF Trustees who are desperately trying to spin the truth about the performance of our pension fund.   Recently posted to the AFM-EPF website is an updated presentation concerning our fund performance (click here) where the Trustees state that AFM-EPF administrative expenses are “comparatively low” within the peer group. (See slide 22) The peer group consists of five other pension plans, all in the entertainment industry.