LIMA — On April 14, a group of retirees from the Lima area joined thousands of people from across the U.S. for a rally to protest a law that could reduce their pensions by as much as 70 percent.
Lima resident Richie Crouch said the rally, which was held in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., was the best way for their voices to be heard. But one week after the event, Crouch and more than 400,000 other people who may see cuts in their pensions are waiting in limbo, unsure of what the future may bring.
“It’s a waiting game right now,” Crouch said.
The projected pension cuts are a result of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in December 2014.
The law allows for a reduction in benefits for multiemployer pension plans that were at risk of going broke. Before this legislation, pension plans in financial trouble could not reduce benefits to already retired workers.
To save the decimated pension fund, which is handled by an organization called Central States, a recovery plan is being proposed that would guarantee a maximum of $12,870 per year for people with 30 years of service. The amount can be as low as $4,290 for those with 10 or fewer years of service.
For people like Crouch, who for years had paid dues to the Teamsters union Local 908, the pension he was supposed to receive will be cut by 65 percent.
“It’s welfare money,” Crouch said in a March interview with The Lima News. “If my wife wasn’t working, I could apply for food stamps.”
Crouch hopes the recovery plan is rejected, but he and thousands of other Teamsters might not have an answer until May 7. Though the retirees have expressed their concerns, the decision is in the hands of the U.S. Treasury Department. If the plan is accepted, pension cuts would begin on July 1.
“There’s three things that could possibly happen: A bailout, they could put off making a decision until later, or they could ram [pension cuts] up our rear,” Crouch said. “I’m hoping for a bailout.”
Brian VanMatre, president of Teamsters Local 908, said he would also be in favor of a bailout, but he is not optimistic.
“I just don’t know if the American public will go along with it after what’s happened with the financial institutions in the country and the auto industry,” VanMatre said. “There’s a lot of negativity out there towards the unionized workforce.”
VanMatre speculated that the recovery plan won’t be accepted as written, though he is unsure if it will be completely rejected or rewritten to include less drastic cuts. He is hoping for the former.
“I’m hoping the plan is rejected so that Central States is sent back to the table to come up with another plan,” he said. “Some kind of legislation needs to be enacted to help all employer-driven pension funds.”
VanMatre said retirees facing pension cuts should contact their local elected officials to make their voices heard before a decision is made.
“We encourage all our members and retirees to keep pushing for some way to fix this multiemployer pension problem,” he said. “You’ve got to show your anger, and you’ve got to be out their in the public expressing your outrage.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima.