Trustees Target the Most Vulnerable Musicians

Many of you have received notice that our trustees have decided to eliminate the disability pension for most musicians who need it. In a recent mailing (read it here), the trustees informed us that any musician eligible to receive a regular pension benefit – including any musician over 55 years of age and fully vested in the pension – is no longer eligible for a disability pension benefit. Even musicians below 55 years of age won’t be getting any disability pension if they don’t have at least one year of vesting service in the three calendar years beforehand. 

We have received many inquiries about the trustees’ reasons for this action. Some have speculated that the trustees may need to curb dubious disability claims, but they already have that power. Under the terms of the pension plan, the trustees have the right and the ability to order an independent medical examination for any disability claim. And whatever determination the trustees make on the claim is final and binding.

The real reason for eliminating disability claims relates to MPRA cuts that could happen in the near future. (MPRA is the 2014 law that allows the trustees to cut our pension under certain circumstances.) The trustees recently told us that they will use the next year to “continue to prepare for the possibility of critical and declining status by analyzing different ways that benefit reductions could be implemented fairly if they become necessary.” The trustees have already made extensive preparations for cuts to our pensions. 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.

Under MPRA, accrued benefits of most plan participants are subject to cuts. However certain vulnerable groups are exempted from cuts. One is the population age 80 and over. Also exempted are those receiving a disability pension. The trustees have told the disabled among us that they will not be receiving any disability pension, but rather a regular pension. The difference, of course, is that a regular pension can be cut.

Our trustees are very good at wasting our hard-earned pension dollars. They have hired an expensive Washington, D.C. polling and communications firm. They pay their staff exorbitant salaries – the AFM-EPF Fund Administrator alone makes $430,000 per year. They pay over $28,000 per year to the NCCMP, a Washington DC lobbying group that has worked to defeat the Butch Lewis Act. They vastly overpay for investment advice, keeping not one but two outside overseers of our investment portfolio on the payroll. And let’s not forget how the trustees wasted our pension dollars in the stock market on “extraordinarily risky” investments (in the words of Federal Judge Valerie Caproni).

We find it shocking that the trustees would choose this course of action as a way to save money when there are multiple other avenues, as we have pointed out several times, that do not put those with disabilities at risk. Cutting expenses is critical to the health and longevity of our pension fund, but targeting those most vulnerable in our membership, when their protection should be paramount, is not what plan participants had in mind when we demand that the trustees find ways to save money.