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February 2019

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Keeping Our Promise

For IBEW members, a pension is more than just dollars and cents. It's a promise. In exchange for a lifetime of hard work and your own financial contributions, you can count on a secure and respectable retirement.

But for many participants in multiemployer plans, that promise is in danger of being broken.

These plans were created to cover workers in industries with numerous employers, such as trucking and construction. While many plans — including the majority of the IBEW's — are healthy, some are in serious trouble, most notably the Central States Pension Fund. The fund, the fourth largest in the United States, covers 400,000 workers throughout the Midwest and is expected to become insolvent in less than a decade unless Congress takes action.

Let's be clear. These plans aren't in trouble because employees got too greedy. They are in trouble because of big changes to our economy, including consolidation, union-busting and deregulation, which bankrupted many companies that participated in multiemployer funds.

If just the Central States fund alone went insolvent, it would wipe out the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

That means millions of hard-working Americans who contributed a lifetime of labor and part of their paychecks to their retirement could be forced to live off a tiny fraction of what they are owed. Or worse.

Not only is that bad for retirees, it would be disastrous for our economy. A recent analysis from Matrix Global Advisors found that a failure of the Central States plan would lead to the loss of more than 55,000 jobs across the United States.

To head off this crisis, Congress established a bipartisan committee early last year to explore different solutions.

Some of the ideas raised, however, would exacerbate, not help, the problem by increasing the financial burden on employers and employees participating in secure funds.

A better approach is the Butch Lewis Act. Introduced in Congress in 2017, the bill would provide long-term, low-interest loans to troubled multiemployer pension plans, saving millions of retirees from financial ruin.

In late November, hundreds of IBEW business managers and plan trustees descended on Capitol Hill to demand Congress take action to protect our pensions.

We're asking you to do your part. Please call your member of Congress and ask them to support Butch Lewis so America can keep its promise to working families.

Visit for information, and read our story in this issue of The Electrical Worker.


Also: Stephenson: Attacking Our Dignity Read Stephenson's Column

Kenneth W. Cooper

Kenneth W. Cooper
International Secretary-Treasurer