Rush to change pension law could hurt retirees; IP Jones urges Congress to reconsider

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AT THE BEHEST of some unions and groups, the lame duck Congress appears poised to rush through sweeping changes to pension law — among the changes, giving plan trustees the ability to slash pension benefits of those who have already retired.

The Boilermakers vigorously oppose this proposed legislation. We believe defined benefits mean just what it says: specified pension benefits that will not be reduced and will be there as promised. Current ERISA law includes an anti-cutback provision that says once someone retires his or her pension benefit cannot be reduced. If Congress changes the law, that guarantee will no longer exist.

The National Journal called the plan a “sneak attack on pensions.” A Los Angeles Times headline puts it this way: “The lame duck Congress plots to undermine retiree pensions.”

International President Newton B. Jones sent a letter to all members of Congress December 8 to request that they reconsider this rush to change pension law.  He stresses that a broader public discussion and a measured and deliberative approach are necessary to avoid doing serious harm to retirees. The letter is reprinted below.

Dear Member of Congress:

On behalf of the members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), I write to express serious concerns with the manner in which certain multi-employer pension reforms are being considered in the remaining days of this congressional session.

Not only are key provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) under reconsideration, including the “anti-cutback rule,” we understand that premium increases are also now being seriously considered at the last minute. With too many pension plans still recovering from the 2008-2009 recession, imposing a higher premium (of an as yet undetermined amount, apparently), without the benefit of proper input and analysis by multi-employer plans to assess how they will be affected financially, is ill-advised.

While we agree that a minority of multi-employer plans face a difficult future and we support efforts to help them maintain their solvency, we have significant concerns with not only some of the “fixes” now being considered, but with the entire process itself. Making sweeping changes to current pension law that will affect millions of retirees without the benefit of the regular process in Congress – no hearings, no markups, and no public release of the text of the legislative language now evidently being considered – and in a lame-duck session no less, is extraordinary and dangerous.

In 1960, the IBB, in cooperation with a group of employers, created the Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust to ensure financial security for our participants upon retirement. The pension also provides early retirement, disability, death and survivor benefits. For over 50 years, the IBB has remained steadfast in our commitment to providing our members a secure retirement.

We believe the lack of public debate and proper vetting of any and all proposals related to multi-employer pension reform and the potential impact on retirees, including our own, is simply undemocratic and does not reflect the deliberative process that we expect of our elected officials in Congress.

Sincerely yours,

Newton B. Jones
International President