Meet the workers whose pensions I’m fighting to protect

Sen. Heitkamp and North Dakota workers and retirees call on Congress to find bipartisan solution to protect retirement savings.

These are the stories of North Dakota workers and retirees who did everything right — folks like you and me, putting away some money to support themselves, their kids, and their grand-kids well into retirement.

For years these workers and retirees responsibly paid into Central States Pension Fund. They worked tough jobs. But now, with the solvency of the fund in jeopardy, their hard-earned savings are imperiled— and Congress needs to act.

In North Dakota, 2,000 workers could lose retirement savings. Across the country, 400,000 are at risk of losing up to 60 percent of their pensions. Greg Peterson, a retiree whose pension is at risk, put the harsh cuts in perspective:

“If you cut my pensions 50 percent, I’m no longer in the middle class. Are you going to kick 400,000 people out of the middle class?”

That’s the message that nearly 100 North Dakota workers and family members shared today at the F-M Labor Temple. We came together to tell personal stories about how crippling pension cuts proposed earlier this year would have impacted families and communities in North Dakota and beyond.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury listened when we urged the initial cuts to be rejected, but we still don’t have a plan that protects workers’ pensions while pushing to make the fund solvent. And it’s these folks’ personal stories that explain why it’s so important that we fight to protect their pensions.

It was my privilege to stand next to Bob Berg, Richard Bye, and Bruce Rylander as they told a room packed with fellow retirees and workers about what these cuts would mean for them and their families — from losing a home to barely affording the medicine they need.

Bob Berg shares his story of the potential impacts of pension cuts.

Bob Berg, 62, worked for UPS for over 30 years, and spoke about what it feels like to be unsure if your retirement savings will be there for you when you need them. Especially with health problems from doing a labor-intensive job, those savings mean everything:

“We paid into our pensions with the promise they would be there when we retired. Now it’s hard to even consider getting a new lawnmower, because none of us know if our pension will be there tomorrow. Though I’m only 62, my job took a toll on my body — I’ve had surgery on both knees, and have a permanent restriction on lifting after five herniated discs in my back. I worked hard for 30 years to earn this pension, and it’s time Congress gets to work, too, to find a bipartisan solution protecting our savings.”

Bruce Rylander, 68, also worked for UPS for decades. He explained how the pension cuts would impact his family:

Bruce Rylander talks with folks about how potential pension cuts would impact him and his family.
“Losing half of my pension wouldn’t just hurt me — it would also hurt my kids and grand-kids. For 30 years, I worked for UPS and paid responsibly into my pension. The work wasn’t easy, and I’ve had surgery to replace both hips and to fix my shoulders as a result. Unfair cuts to my pension — and to hundreds of thousands of other folks’ pensions — will make it tougher to afford medical expenses, and make it harder for me to help my grandchildren pay for college.”

Richard Bye, 74, has serious health problems from lifting and tossing heavy packages, year after year.

Richard Bye (second from left) sits with fellow workers and retirees before press conference to call on Congress to take action and find a solution.

To stay healthy, Richard needs multiple insulin shots a day. He’s not sure what he would do — or how he would be able to afford to stay healthy— if he suddenly lost half of his pension:

“If the pension I earned is cut, I don’t know how I’ll afford the medicine and health care I need to get by. After putting in 31 years with UPS, giving my back to my work, it hurts to learn 50 percent of my hard-earned retirement savings could be ripped away. With my health I can’t go back to work. Congress needs to listen to us and to Senator Heitkamp, and find a bipartisan solution that protects our hard-earned pensions.”

Hearing stories like these, how can we not be moved to action? We can’t let this be a country where workers and retirees are left behind.

It’s unacceptable that Congress hasn’t come together to protect these workers’ pensions. With families’ livelihoods at stake, I urge my colleagues in the U.S. Senate to work with us on a bipartisan solution.