Last week, I met with Rita Lewis of Westchester, Ohio. Rita was in Washington to testify in front of the Senate Finance Committee in honor of her late husband, Butch. Butch worked as a trucker for 40 years with the promise that the pension he earned would be there to care for his family after he retired. But for Butch and Rita and thousands more Ohio retirees, that promise is under threat. A law Congress passed two years ago allows pension trustees to propose massive cuts to the earned benefits of retirees when a plan is running low on funds.
This is disgraceful. If a pension fund is in bad shape, it’s our job to fix it — not to break our promises to Ohioans who have worked their whole lives to earn that pension. I believed that two years ago when I voted against the law that allowed these proposed cuts, and I believe it now.
That’s why I have introduced two bills — the Miners Protection Act and the Keep Our Pension Promises Act — that would protect the benefits Ohio workers earned over a lifetime of work. And I am calling on the Treasury to immediately reject the proposed cuts to the Central States Teamsters pension.
Ohio retirees whose pensions are under threat are part of so-called multi-employer pensions, including retired coalminers and truckers. The United Mine Workers of America’s 1974 pension plan was almost completely funded before the financial collapse in 2008, but the plan is now in bad shape, putting the health care and benefits of retirees in jeopardy. The 1974 plan covers more than 100,000 mineworkers, including thousands of Ohioans. Teamsters —– including more than 47,000 Ohioans – who are part of the Central States Pension Fund are facing a similar crisis.
Miners worked underground their entire lives to put food on the table, send their kids to college, and help power this country. Truckers crisscrossed the state and the country to pay the bills, support their families, and drive our economy forward. They deserve the full pension and health benefits they were promised, and that they worked a lifetime to earn.
Butch Lewis led the Southwest Retirees Pension Committee’s fight against cuts to their earned benefits. He passed away on New Year’s Eve due to a stroke, which doctors have attributed, at least in part, to the stress he faced over the proposed pension cuts. Rita’s widow benefits have already been cut and she faces an additional 40 percent reduction because of the proposed cuts put forth by Central States.
Butch said the cuts being forced on retirees amount to a war against the middle class and the American Dream – and he’s right. Ohio’s retired workers have earned their pensions and retirement savings over a lifetime of hard work — whether it’s behind a desk, on the factory floor, down in coalmines or behind the wheel.
We should honor Butch’s memory by continuing his work. That means coming together to support a bipartisan solution to protect Rita’s benefits and the pensions of tens of thousands of Ohio retirees.
The writer is a U.S. senator from Ohio.