Below are highlights from the first national conference call hosted by MPS which took place on June 26, 2017
In April, MPS organized a meeting for AFM-EPF members in New York City. Over 200 participants attended, and we presented a version of the information available on our website to a packed room. Since we formed, MPS has always viewed the crisis of our pension fund to be one of national concern. With 50,000 AFM union members scattered across the United States, it is hard to address everyone’s concerns, keep them informed, and give membership a place for their voice to be heard. On June 26, MPS and 39 AFM members across the country took a very successful first step in starting a national conversation about the problems at the AFM-EPF. The first of what will be many planned national calls had one goal: to open up lines of communication regarding the current AFM-EPF pension crisis on a national level, with one cohesive voice and strategy. The call was a great success – one MPS looks forward to building upon. Participation in the next national call is open to anyone; please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate. Below, you will find a brief summary of the minutes from our 1st National Conference Call.
- Call organized and led by Adam Krauthamer along with two other MPS representatives, Director of Organizing for MPS Pete Donovan and Jon Kantor, Senior Policy Advisor and legal advisor to MPS. The call was attended by 39 Plan participants from all over the country.
- The call lasted two hours, with about 75 minutes of presentations and 45 minutes of questions, answers and general discussion.
- Norman Stein, Senior Policy Advisor, Pension Rights Center, Washington DC, spoke first.
- Mr. Stein spoke about the various pension legislation proposals being formulated in Washington.
- Keep Our Pension Promises Act, or KOPPA, sponsored Bernie Sanders (I-VT). KOPPA repeals the elimination of anti-cutback provisions under the Multiemployer Pension Act of 2014 (MPRA). It would prohibit cuts in benefits to participants in multiemployer pension funds just like the AFM-EPF. It aims to pay for itself through the closing of certain tax loopholes which the Sanders camp believes could raise around $32 billion to create a backstop for the PBGC.
- Mr. Stein’s take on this was that KOPPA in the current Republican Congress, is highly unlikely to be enacted into law. However, according to Mr. Stein, there are a number of Republican sponsored proposals that mainly center on creating more procedural protections for plan participants. One proposal would condition any cuts on a majority of those voting. (Under MPRA, cuts can only be nullified if a majority of the plan participants vote it down; i.e., an abstention equals a vote for the cuts.) Another proposal would not allow pension plan trustees to apply for benefit cuts without the affirmative vote of plan participants.
- Mr. Stein went on the describe a number of other proposals not yet sponsored by any Senators or Congressmen. One was a proposal by the Teamsters Union that would grant plans in critical and declining status the ability to get low cost government guaranteed loans to give them a chance to be restored to financial health.
- Mr. Stein related that many legislators on both sides of the aisle are focused on passing smaller bills that stave off cuts, keep plans out of critical and declining status, and look toward passing more extensive legislation under a, hopefully, more favorable congress after the 2018 or 2020 elections.
- Given these political dynamics, Mr. Stein recommended that plan participants:
- Organize politically, pressure congress to create legislation to reform MPRA, and ultimately to infuse money into troubled plans.
- Persuade the AFM-EPF trustees to not submit MPRA application to cut benefits.
- If an application to cut benefits is made, to persuade the Treasury Department to reject the application
- Mr. Stein also recommended hiring an independent actuary for two reasons:
- The work of the AFM-EPF actuary is critical in determining whether we go into critical and declining status. Moving the needle just a few percent in any parameter can have dire consequences to the fund. It is best that this work is independently double checked. (As a note MPS is in the process of interviewing actuaries to join our team and we expect to retain one in the next few weeks)
- The other reason to have our own actuarial analysis is if the AFM-EPF does indeed file a MPRA application within 30 days of an application, it is posted online and is open for comments from any interested parties (can include individuals directly affected by the application, groups like AARP, the Pension Rights Center, etc.) A solid, independent actuarial analysis would be extremely useful in amending or keeping the application from being accepted.
- Jon Kantor, legal advisor/senior policy advisor to MPS, spoke after Mr. Stein and echoed many of the same sentiments. He also pointed out that the Central States Teamsters situation, with over $20 billion of unfunded pension liabilities, has motivated many Senators and Congressmen, particularly from Rust Belt states, to meaningfully reform MPRA. There is political momentum for change.
- The floor was then open to callers and various ideas were brought up, including imposing fees on internet service providers to try and capture funds from content streamed/downloaded on their services illegally. There were a number of questions about the Plan’s investment performance and administrative expenses. Finally, there was a discussion about various strategic and tactical options available to MPS to continue to build out its grass roots base and to communicate better with concerned Plan participants.