U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown visited with Teamsters members and retirees Friday to push legislation he argues could save a string of ailing blue-collar pensions.
Brown, D-Ohio, visited the Harrison Twp. offices of Teamsters Local 957 to discuss the shortfalls that threaten the union pensions of 60,000 Ohioans and 1.5 million workers and retirees nationwide.
Earlier this month, a 16-member bipartisan, House and Senate joint select committee was established to confront the issue of pension plans strained by falling assets and rising obligations.
The committee will include senators and House members, to be equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. Brown hopes to co-chair the committee.
“These pensions were promised — a promise you extracted at the bargaining table, a sacrifice you made at the bargaining table,” Brown told a standing-room-only crowd at the Armstrong Lane union hall. “It’s money you could have spent on vacations or on your family.”
The Ohio Democrat and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Youngstown, in December introduced the Butch Lewis Act, named for a retired Ohio trucker and Teamster from West Chester Twp. in Butler County who died in late 2015. Butch Lewis’s wife, Rita, has taken up the cause and fought for the bill in her late husband’s absence.
The legislation would let the federal government issue bonds to help close the gap between pension assets and obligations.
Some have criticized what they say is the likely cost of such an effort. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has said new federal relief for pensions could cost $100 billion or more — a number with which Brown’s office disagrees. His office also says no federal taxpayer funds would be used for the plan.
Rita Lewis also spoke in Dayton Friday, as did Mike Walden, president of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions.
“We are on a fixed income,” Walden told a crowd that included mostly retirees. “We’ll never get another raise for the rest of our lives.”
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Brown’s office says several Ohio pension plans, including the Ohio Southwest Carpenters Pension Fund, the Central States Teamsters Pension Fund, the United Mine Workers Pension Plan and others, are “on the brink of failure.”
The new pension committee has instructions to report a bill by the last week of November.
If at least four members from each party agree on a compromise, the bill will be guaranteed an expedited vote on both the House and Senate floors free of amendments, Brown’s office said.