A Better Deal for America’s Working Families — Save Our Pension Benefits

For thousands of working families in America, the promise of a pension earned after a lifetime of hard work has been their strongest guarantee of financial security in retirement. This is particularly true for those who worked hard to earn a pension as part of the multiemployer pension plans negotiated by the Teamsters, United Mine Workers, and other unions. These plans have provided comfort and security to working people for decades.

But today, these plans and the financial security they provide to American families are in danger — and not because of anything that these workers did wrong. Following the 2008 Wall Street crash and the Great Recession, many of these plans absorbed major financial losses and now, they are in danger of not meeting their full obligations to retirees. These plans paid out $241 billion in benefits in 2015, representing lifetimes of work for thousands families. In New York alone, there are at least 38,000 workers in Teamsters plans that are at risk of seeing drastic cuts. Across the United States, approximately 200 plans are in danger of failing within the next decade, affecting 1.5 million hard working Americans. Today, I will join with Teamsters in Syracuse, New York to offer a solution to this problem.

As with so many aspects of our economy, Democrats believe the American people deserve a Better Deal than the one they are getting today — and that starts with Congress stepping up to the plate and making sure that these pension plans are put back on a path to providing full benefits. Democrats have a proposal to do just that. The Butch Lewis Act, introduced by my colleague Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, would ensure that no American loses the pension benefits that they deserve. The workers who participate in these plans deferred immediate financial benefits for the promise of a safe and secure retirement for themselves and their families. This promise must be kept, which is why Congress should pass the Butch Lewis Act before the end of the year.

How would this plan work? First, it would create a new office within the Treasury Department called the Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA). The PRA would lend money to troubled pension plans so that they may remain solvent; it would finance these loans by selling Treasury bonds on the open market. Pension plans, in return, would be required to use this money to purchase safe investments, which would guarantee their ability to pay the benefits owed to their participants. All money loaned by the PRA would be repaid over the course of the next 30 years.

This plan would not only help prevent American workers from losing the benefits they earned and were promised, it would save taxpayers from having to spend billions should pension plans fail. It is imperative that the Senate pass the Butch Lewis Act as soon as possible.

The American Dream has always been based on the premise that hard work is rewarded with prosperity and security. Too many Americans are not seeing their hard work rewarded. We must reverse this trend. I urge my Republican colleagues to join Senator Brown, myself, and the rest of my Democratic colleagues to give Americans a Better Deal on pensions.