Not The Answer

I’ve written a lot on this subject, so I suspect that you would prefer another point of view. Here are the words from Cecil Roberts, International President for the UMWA on the subject of the Grassley-Alexander proposal.

Grassley-Alexander multi-employer pension plan proposal not the answer for retired miners and widows

[TRIANGLE, VA.] United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today regarding the proposal by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) addressing the multi-employer pension plan crisis:

“This proposal provides everything those who advocate against working families have ever wished for. It penalizes workers for joining unions, it penalizes retirees for sticking with those unions, it penalizes employers for recognizing unions and it penalizes unions themselves for successfully representing their members.

“This is not a starting point for negotiations. It is a multi-billion dollar tax increase on working families – especially retired Americans living on fixed incomes – their employers and their unions. Retirees covered by the UMWA Pension Fund, for example, would be subject to a 10 percent tax on pensions that average a little under $600 per month.

“This proposal does not begin to address the immediate crisis UMWA retirees and their families are confronting. Fortunately, the Bipartisan American Miners Act –by Senator Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), and a dozen bipartisan Senate cosponsors – does address that crisis, using an existing source of funding that requires no new bureaucracy and most importantly, no new taxes on working families.

“Retired miners, their families and widows do not have the luxury of waiting to see if Congress can eventually come up with a comprehensive solution to the multi-employer pension crisis that treats retirees fairly. 1,200 stand to lose their health care at the end of this year, 12,000 more will lose health care within a few short months, and more than 82,000 will likely see drastic cuts to their pensions a few months after that.

“We continue to strongly urge House and Senate leadership – all of whom say they want to address the immediate crisis retired miners face – to put partisanship aside and pass the Bipartisan American Miners Act. These senior citizens, who provided the fuel to power America at great risk of life and limb, need action now. Let’s get this done.

I agree with Mr. Roberts. My fear is that the U.S. Senate, under Republican majority, will act on this proposal that basically dooms to failure the 120+ multiemployer plans that are designated as Critical and Declining. Why? Instead of providing these cash-starved plans with the lifeline that they need, the proposed legislation will strengthen the PBGC so that when these funds ultimately fail they will be able to provide some of the promised benefits. I’d much prefer the Butch Lewis Act that provides a low-interest loan to these struggling plans that insures the Retired Lives liability is met in full and gives these plans a 30-year lifeline to get their house in order. Without DB plans the next generation of workers will likely be left with only a DC option, and we know how badly that has worked out for many U.S. workers in the private sector.

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