Planned pension cuts outrage retired Teamsters

More than 150 retired Teamsters rallied at the union’s Downtown offices on Thursday afternoon to voice their outrage over possible cuts to their pensions by the Central States Pension Fund.

“They must think we’re stupid,” said J.R. Carroll of Columbus. “I thought they worked for us. It’s going to devastate our lives.”

The meeting was held after the Central States Pension Fund told retirees that it is wrapping up work on what it calls a “necessary and fair pension rescue plan,” which it will file with the federal government.

The cuts that were outlined in a letter sent to him, Carroll said, would mean that his pension would be reduced from $2,800 a month to $600.

“This is not the union I became part of in the ’70s,” Carroll said.

While Central States sent letters to Teamsters recently that outlined possible cuts, the final proposal has yet to be presented to members. Central States likely will post the plan on its website next week, said Whitley Wyatt of Washington Court House, a spokesman for the Central Ohio Committee to Protect Pensions.

The fund’s action comes after Congress passed a law last year that allows “multiemployer pension plans” such as Central States to reduce benefits to shore up sagging finances.

The Central States fund has said it is spending more money than it is taking in and that it needs to cut benefits to keep the fund solvent.

“The longer we delay, the bigger the benefit reductions will need to be to save the fund,” the fund said on its website. “If we wait too long, even a rescue plan with benefit reductions won’t work, and the fund will run out of money to pay any benefits.”

But Teamsters at the rally were indignant about the cuts and about Central States’ handling of their pensions, especially after one Teamster read a short list that gave details of Central States officials’ annual pay — all making $100,000 or more.

“We worked for these pensions,” said Robert Mitchell of Columbus. “Our contracts guaranteed us what we have today. I say, run it at full speed … and then see if it goes out (of money). If it goes out, the Central States people go out with it.”

“I see nothing whatsoever in this proposal that would make it (the fund) solvent,” said Mike Walden, chairman of the Northeast Ohio Committee to Protect Pensions. “My thought is these cuts are just to keep their (Central States) jobs.

“My opinion is, you should take your chances,” Walden said. “I would definitely like to see an investigation on Central States.”

Any cut would have to be voted on by the retirees and active workers, but the way the law was drafted makes it difficult to block the reduction, opponents say, because the Treasury Department will have the final say on changes to the pension fund.

That means retirees need to bombard Congress with their objections to the cuts, the Teamsters said.

“The only people who can change this law are your House and Senate members,” Walden said.

Meanwhile, new legislation has been introduced that would provide the pension fund with financial support through new taxes on high-wealth individuals, including one bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Portman introduced the proposal after the earlier law, allowing for the pension cuts, was passed in “kind of the dark of the night,” said Stephen White, Portman’s general counsel.

The new proposal would make participant votes binding, White said. It also would count only ballots that are returned.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Wyatt said. “There are 48,000 (retired) Teamsters in Ohio, and we swing a lot of weight, but we have to make our feelings known. We’ve got to get people to hear us.”


Columbus Dispatch