The Electrical Worker online
July 2019

Tell Your Representatives,
'Act Now to Save My Pension'
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Weeks before Christmas, hundreds of IBEW members swarmed Capitol Hill to kill a proposal that would have crippled multiemployer pension plans.

But more than six months have gone by without a permanent fix to the pension crisis, and IBEW leaders are again asking for members' help to kick-start the legislative process.

Most of the roughly 1,400 multiemployer pension plans in the U.S. are fine, including nearly every IBEW plan. But a handful are in trouble, mostly in industries hollowed out in recent decades, including unionized trucking, mining and food service.

IBEW's efforts last December, aided by other unions, killed a scheme that would have saddled healthy pension plans with the bill for the troubled plans.

"They wanted us to pay more for our benefits while getting less out of them and it's important we stopped that," said International Secretary Treasurer Kenny Cooper. "This is our money. These are our plans. We weren't about to let Congress touch one dime of it."

But stopping a bad bill isn't the same as getting a good one passed. And without further action, more than 10 million pension plans covered by the government guarantor, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, could still be at risk.

Now that Democrats hold the House majority, Cooper had expected to pivot away from stopping dangerous bills and toward making real progress. And to an extent, there is good news, he said.

The Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pension Act (H.R. 397) would provide long-term, low-interest federal loans to troubled plans, which they would be required to pay back in full as their investments recover.

The bill is more informally known as the Butch Lewis Act, named after a Teamster who was so concerned about his lost income when his pension plan went under that he had a stroke and died.

The bill's cost is estimated between $7 billion and $34 billion, far lower than the $700 billion price tag for the Troubled Asset Relief Program that bailed out the banks a decade ago, and the $135 billion spent bailing out mortgage insurers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

And the estimated Butch Lewis costs pale next to the projected economic fallout if even one of the troubled plans fail. Economists predict the collapse of the Central States fund, which covers mostly union truckers, would cost 55,000 jobs and $3 billion in labor income when the fund is projected to run out of money in 2025 alone, with a devastating ripple effect on communities across the Midwest.

The Butch Lewis Act has broad support across organized labor and, as of early May, the bill had more than 140 sponsors in the House. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is expected to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

"It is our understanding that Sen. Brown is working on getting support from Republicans in the Senate before reintroducing the legislation, but we expect to see it in the coming months," said Political and Legislative Department Director Austin Keyser.

In the interim, Keyser said, IBEW members must continue to put the pressure on their representatives in the House to co-sponsor the bill. To find your representative, enter your ZIP code at

"This landmark legislation will protect benefits for millions of Americans who have worked their entire lives to secure their families' retirement. Our representatives need to hear from us, because they are definitely hearing from the bosses and the banks that want to turn us out of pensions and into something worse," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.


Multiemployer pensions are under attack in Washington, D.C., The IBEW needs your help in fighting for them.