WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) formally reintroduced his Butch Lewis Act, legislation to build on his years-long fight alongside Ohio retirees, workers and small businesses to save multiemployer pension plans.
The failure of these plans would have drastic consequences for the country’s economy, especially amid the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to reintroducing the legislation, Brown is working to include his bill in the COVID-19 rescue package currently coming together in Congress. Brown named the legislation in memory of Butch Lewis, the former retired head of Teamsters Local 100 in southwest Ohio.
“If the multiemployer system collapses, the effect will ripple across the entire economy, at a time when we can least afford it. We need to get this done,” said Brown. “These workers don’t want a bailout or a handout – they’re just asking for what they earned.”
Brown has been joined on a number of news conference calls with Rita Lewis, widow of Butch Lewis, and a vocal champion for a multiemployer pension fix for Ohio retirees and workers. Ms. Lewis was also Brown’s guest at the State of the Union in 2018 and 2019.
Specifically, Brown’s Butch Lewis Act would:
- Keep multiemployer pension plans solvent and well-funded for thirty years—with no cuts to the earned benefits of participants and beneficiaries;
- Restore full benefits for retirees in plans that previously had to take cuts and increase the maximum Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) insurance amount; and
- Require each plan that receives assistance to file regular status reports with the PBGC and Congressional Committees, in order to prevent recurrence and to protect retirees’ benefits.
In February, Brown announced he is assuming the Chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy. This is the key Finance subcommittee with the responsibility to protect and expand Social Security, address the insolvency of the multiemployer pension system, provide paid family and medical leave to America’s workers, and more.
The senator has long led efforts to secure these pensions for Ohioans, touring the state pre-pandemic to stand with Ohio retirees and workers and co-chairing a Congressional Committee on the pension crisis in Columbus in 2018.
In December, Brown stressed the need to include a multi-employer pensions fix in COVID-19 relief following the release of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) annual report. The report underscores why it’s critical that Congress act to solve the multiemployer pension crisis.
According to the report, the Multiemployer Program remains severely underfunded with liabilities of more than $66 billion and only little more than $3 billion in assets. The PBGC is the arm of the federal government that insures pension plans, and the Multiemployer Program is highly likely to become insolvent by 2026 at the latest.
And in August, Brown took to the Senate floor to call on his Senate colleagues to take swift action on behalf of more than a million American workers and retirees who are in danger of losing the pensions they’ve earned.
More on the Pension Crisis:
The pension crisis threatens the retirement of between 1-1.5 million workers and retirees nationwide and could put small businesses across the country in jeopardy. These truck drivers, carpenters, bakers and others worked hard all their lives and gave up raises at the bargaining table in order to put that money toward retirement for themselves and their families. Now that retirement is at risk.
Numerous pension plans, including the Central States Pension Plan, the Bakers and Confectioners Pension Plan, and more are at risk of failure. Several other plans have already had to cut benefits. If nothing is done to help the plans, they will fail and retirees will face massive cuts to the benefits they earned over decades of work.
If the plans are allowed to fail, not only will they no longer be able to pay promised benefits, but taxpayers and small businesses would be at risk of having to pay billions because the PBGC would be on the hook for billions of dollars it cannot pay.
There are several causes for this crisis, including the fact that the economic collapse of 2008 devastated these plans and the people who depend on them. These retirees and workers who have done everything right did not cause this crisis, and Congress must not turn its back on them.