The joint committee — made up of Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate — faces a daunting task: find a solution to save multi-employer pension plans that are at risk of insolvency.
The plans were created to allow employers to pool resources in providing their workers with retirement benefits.
The plans, negotiated by unions, are run by trustees selected by the unions and employers. For years, most of the plans ran at a surplus, but the past two recessions, combined with corporate bankruptcies, worsened their situations.
Around the country, 10 million workers are served by 1,400 multi-employer plans. Of those plans, 150 to 200, covering 1.5 million workers and retirees, could run out of money within 20 years, according to the Pension Rights Center. One is Central States, a pension program with 50,000 members in Ohio.
The committee has had one business meeting and three hearings and will hold three more hearings — two in Washington, D.C. and one in the field. Led by co-Chairmen Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, it has until late November to find a solution. Congress must vote up or down on any proposed solution, with no amendments. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also serves on the committee.
Brown is pushing a bill he introduced — the Butch Lewis Act, named after a Cincinnati-area retiree who died fighting for his pension — that would create a low-interest, 30-year federal loan to troubled pension plans, with no cuts to retiree benefits.
Brown said that although most people are aware of the threat to pensioners, “the threat to current workers and to small businesses — and to our economy as a whole — is equally real.”
But Hatch made clear that he isn’t convinced that Brown’s bill is the solution.
Portman, meanwhile, said he wants “to keep everything on the table at this point,” but he urged continued research on possible solutions