The Electrical Worker online
April 2021

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Pensions Prove Who Our Friends Are

Brothers and sisters, I wear a lot of hats as your International Secretary-Treasurer, but none is more important to me than my responsibility as steward of the National Electrical Benefit Fund.

Like many of you, a major lure in joining this brotherhood was the promise of a secure and dignified retirement after years of hard work. There have been a lot of other amazing benefits along the way, but that stands out as the great reward at the end of a long career.

For many of our union brothers and sisters in other trades, that promise has been in danger through no fault of their own. Entire industries have been hollowed out as the economy changed, and more workers ended up drawing on pension plans than were paying in. That put some of those plans into serious financial trouble.

I've been talking to you about the Butch Lewis Act for several years, a bill circulating in Congress that would help those plans survive and keep those retirement promises intact. Our friends on Capitol Hill kept introducing this plan, but they kept running into opposition.

You see, many on the anti-union side wanted to see those plans fail. They wanted millions of retired Americans to lose their hard-earned pensions so they could point to their failure as an argument against unions and against defined-benefit plans like many of ours.

The government insurance plan for these pensions has been underfunded for years, and Republicans wanted to tax healthy pensions like the IBEW's into insolvency to make up the shortfall.

But I'm so proud to report that President Joe Biden and Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate included language from Butch Lewis in the American Rescue Act, the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that will fund everything from vaccine manufacturing to extended unemployment payments and more.

I often get asked why the IBEW gets so involved in politics, and the next time I get asked that question, I'm going to point to this pension rescue.

We get involved because the only thing standing between millions of union retirees watching their pensions go up in smoke and the anti-union crowd looking to make an example of them were House and Senate Democrats and a friend in the White House. Not a single Republican voted to save these struggling pensions or to prevent our healthy ones from getting dragged down with them.

Next time you're casting a vote, remember that. We're not liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat at the IBEW. We're for the politicians who stand with us.

After years of working to see sensible legislation like Butch Lewis signed into law, that has never been clearer.


Also: Stephenson: A Hope-Filled Start Read Stephenson's Column

Kenneth W. Cooper

Kenneth W. Cooper
International Secretary-Treasurer