Retirees face a less secure future due to decisions soon to come from the U.S. Supreme Court, due to changes to Social Security and Medicare, and due to the enactment of the Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act. They deserve full disclosure and the truth.
Spokeo Inc. vs. Robins, a case argued before the Supreme Court on Nov. 2, seeks to limit lawsuits. The publication "Pensions & Investments" reports that advocates say a ruling could "severely restrict retirement plan participants from accessing federal courts …" Other cases being heard at the high court could restrict who can participate in class-action lawsuits.
The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee states on its website: "Without action to address the fiscal and structural challenges facing Social Security, seniors will see a 23 percent cut to their benefits, beginning in 2033." Yet, the just-passed bipartisan budget agreement, which increases both domestic and military spending, does not provide money to prevent a 20 percent cut in Social Security disability benefits in 2016. The money to prevent those cuts will instead be drawn from payroll taxes that would otherwise have been paid into the Social Security Trust Fund for retirement benefits. Also, Medicare will borrow $7.5 billion from the Treasury, which will be repaid beginning in 2017 when participants will see a $3-a-month premium increase.
The Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) facilitates the cutting of the earned pension benefits of participants in private pension plans. Passed in December 2014 as a rider to the must-pass omnibus spending bill, the MPRA was not debated on the House floor or voted on separately. Retirees did not have a place at the table in committee discussions.
Had Congress required the business and labor entities that comprise the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans to better insure pensions covered by the multiemployer section of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), drastic pension cuts could have been avoided. The 2014 premium rate, set by Congress, was $49 per participant in the single-employer fund, compared with only $12 in the multiemployer fund.
The first plan to apply to cut benefits, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund, has sent letters to participants revealing their proposed individual reductions. Retirees age 80 or older and those who took a disability pension from the fund are fully protected from cuts. Those ages 75 to 79 are partly protected. The Pension Rights Center has received reports of cuts as high as 70 percent for certain younger recipients.
Marcia and her husband, Minnesota residents, question whether the fund did an impact study. Marcia's husband had a heart attack at 46 and has other health problems, but took a regular pension. Marcia has artificial joints in both shoulders and knees and suffers from extreme arthritis. Now, faced with a 51 percent pension cut, they fear losing their home.
Retirees who invested in pensions rather than taking higher wages, in expectation of a secure retirement, have suddenly found their benefits slashed. They could vote against the cuts. However, the MPRA states that votes not cast are counted as votes in favor, as "yes" votes. Also, should "no" votes prevail, the Department of the Treasury can impose the benefit cut plan as submitted or can amend it. This is a highly undemocratic voting process. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has introduced the Pension Accountability Act (S.2147). The act would allow only votes cast to be counted and a majority "no" vote could not be overturned by the Treasury Department.
James P. Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), has communicated opposition to the pension cuts. Will he take effective action? Conversely, the separate "IBT Consolidated Pension Fund" proposed by the union for Kroger Co. and its affiliates would weaken the Central States Pension Fund further by reducing the number of participants who are paying in.
Karen Friedman, director of public policy at the Pension Rights Center, and Erin Parrish, from AARP of Minnesota, will address the Central States Pension Fund plan in an open meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Weyerhaeuser Chapel at Macalester College in St. Paul.
Without the whole truth, transparency and inclusion in decisionmaking, retirees will continue to be targeted.
Donna Carlson, of Lino Lakes, has served on the Centennial Fire Department Steering and Pension Committees. Her spouse is a participant in a multiemployer plan.