Pensions of retirees, widows face
cuts in action by House of Representatives
AARP. Pension Rights Center, labor
unions trying to build last-minute opposition
Dec. 10, 2014 – While most seniors
were focused on Thanksgiving with their families and then getting ready
for Christmas, some members of the U.S. House of Representative have hit
them with a nightmare… a reduction in pension benefits for those already
retired or their widows. This amendment is rapidly moving forward but
senior advocates are swinging into action to motivate senior citizens to
let their voices be heard.
At issue is an effort led by Reps. John Kline and
George Miller, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Education
and the Workforce Committee, to bring reforms to troubled multiemployer
“This last minute backroom deal would, for the
first time, amend the pension law to allow the earned vested benefits of
retirees to be cut,” declared Joyce Rogers, AARP Senior Vice President,
in a statement in opposition to the Kline-Miller amendment to the
Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015,
an amendment that the Los Angeles Times says “could
be a disaster” that would potentially harm millions of current
“After a lifetime of hard work to earn their
pensions, retirees don’t deserve to receive a bad deal, in which they’ve
had no say, cut behind closed doors and excluding the very people who
would be impacted most, Rogers said.”
The Pension Rights Center has been among the most
active in this battle. Executive Vice President Karen Friedman
unsuccessfully urged the House Rules Committee not to include the
legislation cutting retiree pensions in the omnibus spending bill.
“The Pension Rights Center and
retirees across this country are outraged that Congress, in a
last-minute, behind–closed-doors deal, is about to pass a 161-page piece
of legislation that will allow trustees in financially-troubled
multiemployer plans to cut the pensions of hundreds of thousands of
retirees and widows,” said Friedman.
“Given that even the most
challenged plan, the Central States Teamster Pension Fund, is not
projected to run out of money for 10 to15 years, we do not understand
why Congress rushed to pass such draconian legislation in the final days
of the lame-duck session – without debate, without public hearings,
without the input of the vulnerable retirees who stand to lose as much
as 60 percent of their hard-earned retirement benefits.”
The AARP’s Rogers also sent a letter last week to
members of the House and Senate.
“On behalf of AARP’s nearly 38 million members, we urge that you
do not adopt as part of year-end spending legislation a proposal that
impairs a fundamental tenet of pension law and permits multiemployer
pension plans to cut the earned and vested pension benefits of current
“Making significant and far-reaching changes to pension law
without scrutiny of the legislative proposal and with no opportunity for
debate or amendment is unacceptable. This is all the more true given
that the proposal may result in a significant reduction in the modest
income of millions of retirees.” (Read the entire
She also urged seniors to
call Congress at 1-844-259-9351 to ask their representative to oppose
The Pension Rights Center’s Friedman also added,
"It is a travesty that, in the year of the 40th anniversary of the
landmark pension law, ERISA, Congress is about to sweep away a central
tenet of the law – that, once pension benefits are earned, they cannot
be reduced or cut back.
“Even when multiemployer plans face difficulties,
retirees’ pensions are given the strongest protections under the law.
Only when multiemployer plans run completely out of money, then – and
only then – does the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation step in to
assist these plans, and retirees’ benefits are reduced to the low
government guaranty level.”
Opponents - including the United Steelworkers
union, the Laborers' International Union of North America, the AARP, and
the Pension Rights Center - suggest that such a major decision by
Congress should undergo hearings and other public airings and not be
made in the waning days of a lame-duck session as an attachment to a
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