The trustees held a Webinar on October 9, which is full of misleading and inaccurate information. Here is MPS’ point by point response:
Trustee Statement: “We supported the Butch Lewis Act since it was introduced and throughout the Joint Select Committee process.”
What they are not telling you:
The trustees supported Butch Lewis in late 2017, but since have gone soft on it. Meantime, Butch Lewis has been under attack from the NCCMP, a powerful Washington lobbying group that played a key role in the formulation of MPRA, the 2014 law that allows trustees to cut accrued pension benefits. NCCMP wants to put the loan assistance program under Butch Lewis out of reach for plans like AFM-EPF.
AFM-EPF is an important member of the NCCMP and has long been in its inner policymaking circle.
Our trustees refuse to oppose the NCCMP, and have made only meaningless statements in public, like this statement they made on July 8, 2018: “While the Trustees support the Butch Lewis Act, we will be advocating that the Joint Select Committee forge a bipartisan solution that fully addresses the financial issues facing our Fund, while also treating our participants fairly.” The trustees have never criticized or repudiated the NCCMP’s lobbying efforts, despite being called upon numerous times to do so by MPS.
Trustee Statement: “Now is the time to get to Congress and demand a full and fair solution.”
What they’re not telling you:
Wehope that it is not too late and the AFM-EPF will be included in a full and fair solution. Unfortunately, the reality is that we are very late in the game. The time for this was in the spring and summer. During that time the NCCMP mounted a vigorous PR campaign aimed at Capitol Hill to push its proposals. Members of the Select Committee held dozens of private sessions with Washington insiders and lobbyists, including the NCCMP and its allies.
By July 2018, Butch Lewis was in trouble. At a field hearing in Columbus Ohio on Friday, July 13 Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) said that unless workers and retirees “make your voice heard” there would be no help forthcoming from the Federal government. Manchin said that “we need to have the federal government step up” to provide financial assistance to ailing pension plans. But, addressing the audience, Manchin said, “we need your help.” Help never arrived.
In June, July, and August, MPS publicly called upon the trustees to support Butch Lewis and to renounce the NCCMP’s efforts to exclude the AFM-EPF from the loan program. The trustees ignored us.
In September 2018, Butch Lewis collapsed. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the author of Butch Lewis, the co-chairman of the Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions and one of the key negotiators to craft new legislation, agreed to severely narrow the Butch Lewis Act to a small category of plans. The rest, like ours, are left out in the cold.
Ray Hair stated in the Webinar that the original Butch Lewis Act “is still on the table” and “if there is a loan program the musicians plan will be in it.” That is either very cynical or very naïve.
Trustee Statement: “Astroturfers(1), a group that might attempt to pose as a participant group, might try to mislead folks into believing that they represent the fund participants when in fact the trustees, Chris [Brockmeyer] and I are the ones who deal with the Joint Select Committee.”
What they are not telling you:
MPS formulated its own legislative proposal in late August (read it here) to make the cut process more transparent and democratic. We did so because our trustees refused to lift a finger in the crucial spring and summer months to counter what the NCCMP was doing. The NCCMP has been lobbying lawmakers to change the law to give trustees virtually limitless power to cut pensions.
We don’t have the clout that NCCMP does, but someone must try to counter their destructive and unfair proposals. Our trustees have never broken with the NCCMP, and they probably never will.
Trustee statement:“It’s hard enough to get collective-bargaining when you have unity in the workplace. Astroturfers [MPS] have caused division and disunity and have made bargaining more difficult. It hurts us when we try to bargain.”
What they are not telling you: The Union leadership and the trustees were already doing a poor job of getting employer contributions long before MPS was ever formed. According to recent Congressional testimony, aggregate contributions to multiemployer pension plans from 2009 to 2014 increased by 6.9 percent per year.(2) The trustees have calculated that between 2010 and 2016, sustainable employer contributions at AFM-EPF, factoring out what they called “noise,” increased annually at 2.2%.(3) Our Union leaders have done a poor job of negotiating with the employers, falling far short of industry benchmarks. The employers have gotten away paying far less than they should have. Going forward the trustees believe that employer contributions will increase at only 2.5% per year over the next 20 years. That is the assumption they have built into all their projections. It is unclear how any of these things could be the fault of MPS as Ray Hair claims.
MPS is a group of union members that want to hold our leadership accountable for very legitimate issues like the management of our pension fund. This is portrayed as “causing division and disunity" but is not based on anything factual. This is only meant to influence us, through fear, to refrain from holding our union leaders Ray Hair, Tino Gagliardi and the rest of the trustees to a measure of accountability that we need, and deserve from our leadership.
Trustee statement:“We are doing everything in our power to avoid having to reduce benefits.”
What they are not telling you:
The only option the trustees are exploring is to prepare for cuts. The Trustees have already made extensive preparations for that. They have even had a series of discussions with the staff of the U.S. Treasury about the best way to frame their cut application. As we have said before, a cut is not a plan.
1. Astroturfing is a political term describing the phenomenon of fake grassroots movements, usually backed by corporate dark money. MPS does not fall into this category since our funds were raised in small contributions from musicians all over the country, has over 4000 views of its April 4, 2018 town hall meeting and a mailing list of over 20,000 AFM members.
2. The study referred to in the testimony of Ted Goldman before the Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions is Lisa A. Schilling and Patrick Wiese, Multiemployer Pension Plan Contribution Analysis, Society of Actuaries, March 10, 2016, www.soa.org/Files/Research/research-2016-03-multitmployer-analysis.pdf.
3. Milliman, Presentation to AFM-EPF Trustees, May 16, 2017, page 6