June 11, 2019
With Earned Pension Benefits on the Line, Retirees Call on Congress to Pass the Butch Lewis Act
By Richard Fiesta
Executive Director, Alliance for Retired Americans
The stakes couldn’t have been higher today for 1.3 million Americans when the House Education and Labor Committee approved H.R. 397, the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act, by a vote of 26-18.
The legislation, also known as the Butch Lewis Act, affects approximately 130 pension plans covering millions of retirees and current workers in industries such as construction, retail, manufacturing, transportation, and mining. Their plans are in imminent danger of insolvency.
Retirees’ pensions were earned during years of hard work. To gain pension benefits, workers have foregone pay raises and other benefits. It is not the workers’ fault that these plans are on the verge of insolvency, but this dire situation will lead to benefit cuts of 50% to 75%.
The legislation is named for Butch Lewis, a retired truck driver from West Chester, Ohio. Mr. Lewis had only been retired for one year when he got a letter informing him that his earned pension benefits were at risk of being cut from $3,349 a month to $1,999. Mr. Lewis lost sleep and fretted constantly about the loss of retirement income he and his fellow Teamsters faced. The stress took a toll, and on New Year’s Eve 2015, Mr. Lewis died of a massive stroke. He was 64.
The Butch Lewis Act protects workers whose pensions are at risk by providing low-interest 30-year loans to troubled pension plans. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the loan program would cost $32 billion over 10 years, far less than the $101 billion it would cost retirees and taxpayers if the PBGC were to fail. Providing government assistance or a loan guarantee to troubled entities is not unprecedented. For example, Congress had provided $180 billion for AIG as of 2011 and a bailout worth billions to the savings and loan industry in the 1990s.
Congress also needs to pass H.R. 935, the Miners Pension Protection Act, and preserve United Mine Workers’ (UMWA) hard-earned pensions. Together these bills will protect the hard-earned benefits of retirees, secure the solvency of the PBGC and ensure that well over a million hard-working Americans have a dignified retirement.