Congressional committee hears pleas from retirees

Toledo Blade

COLUMBUS — Jim and Roberta Dell thought they had a plan for retirement.

But then Jim, an employee of Spangler Candy Company of Bryan, died from cancer in 2015, and Roberta, at age 65 and the chief steward of the company’s union, now faces potentially severe cuts in the pension she’s spent 46 years on the job building.

“None of us thought we would be in this position, living from paycheck to paycheck with our futures in such uncertainty,” she told members of the federal House and Senate Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans.

The congressional committee is trying to find a fix to the pension crisis.

Spangler President Bill Martin told the committee the company has seen its contributions to its 550 employees’ pension fund nearly double over the last decade.

It has found itself having to compensate for other employers who had once been their partners in the multi-employer Central States Pension Plan. Spangler is paying the benefits of retirees who’ve never worked for the 122-year-old, fourth-generation family-owned company most famous for making Dum Dum lollipops.

“The real sad truth is our Teamster employees will only receive a fraction of their promised retirement benefits because the Central States Pension Plan is going to fail,” he said. “Tom Nyhan, the Central States executive director, has already stated that beginning in January 2025, the Central States retirement benefits will be cut.”

The bipartisan, 16-member committee is charged with making a recommendation to Congress before the end of November. Friday’s hearing in the Ohio Statehouse marked the only one held outside of Washington.

If at least five members from each party can reach consensus — 10 of the 16, the recommendation would go directly to simple up-or-down votes on the Senate and House floors.

The solvency of these union-tied, multi-employer pension funds was endangered by the 2008 recession, employer bankruptcies and buyouts, and other factors. Should they fail, some 1.3 million retirees nationally, including more than 60,000 in Ohio, could lose benefits entirely or suffer cuts as deep as 90 percent.

Seven committee members attended the hearing — U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), and Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.), and U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D., Mich.), Richard Neal (D., Mass.), Bobby Scott (D., Va.), and Donald Norcross (D., N.J.).

Mr. Brown and fellow Democrats, including both of Michigan’s senators, have proposed the Butch Lewis Act, named for a now deceased Teamster president from West Chester.

The bill would create the Pension Rehabilitation Administration within the U.S. Department of Treasury to make low-interest loans to troubled multi-employer, defined pension plans. The plans would repay the loans over 30 years.

“I’m ready and willing to make changes or work on solutions,” said Mr. Brown, the committee’s co-chairman. “I want to hear any idea that will bring us closer to bipartisan compromise. Too much is at stake to retreat into partisan corners.”

Congressional committee hears pleas from retirees »