8.6.202 SB Floor Speech, Pensions

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WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) 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.

In May, Brown applauded the House of Representatives for its  HEROES Act, which includes key priorities and much-needed relief for Ohio’s workers and retirees by authorizing a partition program to remove liability from troubled pension plans, allowing them to stay solvent and protecting retirees’ benefits without cuts to small businesses and communities.

The GOP coronavirus proposal, which fails to meaningfully address the coronavirus crisis, also fails to include a solution to troubled multiemployer pension plans.

“If the entire multiemployer pension system collapses, it will make our economic crisis worse,” said Brown on the Senate floor. “We knew before that this system could collapse, and it’s only more likely now. And if that happens, we know who will get hurt the most. It’s not the Wall Street banks that squandered workers’ money. It’s small businesses and their employees who did everything right. They contributed to these pensions, in many cases over decades.”

Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery can be found below:

The public health crisis and the economic crisis that we’re facing right now are not happening in a vacuum.

All the damage caused by the coronavirus and the president’s failures is layered on top of all the existing problems in our country – including the crisis we were already facing in the multiemployer pensions system.

More than a million American workers and retirees were already in danger of losing the retirement security they earned.

These are people who did everything right. They spent years working on assembly lines, bagging groceries, driving trucks, working hard to keep our economy going.

And money came out of every single one of their paychecks to earn these pensions.

People in this town don’t understand the collective bargaining process – people give up dollars today for the promise of a secure retirement, with good health care and a pension.

This crisis affects thousands of Ohioans – it affects the massive Central States Pension Plan, the Bricklayers Local 7, the Ironworkers Local 17 Pension Plan, the Ohio Southwest Carpenters Pension Plan, the Bakers and Confectioners Pension Plan, and others.

And it touches every state in the country.

We’re talking about our entire multiemployer pension system. And if it collapses, it won’t just be retirees who will feel the pain.

Current workers will be stuck paying into pensions they’ll never receive. Small businesses will be left drowning in pension liability they can’t afford to pay.

Small businesses that have been in the family for generations could face bankruptcy. Workers will lose jobs at businesses forced to close up shop.

And the effect will ripple across the entire economy. It’s not only union businesses that participate in these plans that will close their doors – this will devastate small communities across the industrial heartland. Small businesses in these communities are already hurting because of this virus.

And these pension plans were already in danger before. Now the economic emergency we’re in has put them in a worse position.

The House has done its part, repeatedly.  First, they passed the Butch Lewis Act.

And more than two months ago they passed the HEROES act, which includes a pensions solution.

But under Mitch McConnell, the Senate has done nothing.  It is time for us to do our part. 

Leader McConnell has refused to do anything on pensions. He didn’t address it in the HEALS Act that he introduced last week. And he didn’t address it in the CARES Act.

There are reports that the President was fine with including a multiemployer pensions fix the CARES Act if Leader McConnell wanted it.

But Leader McConnell stopped it, and the president wasn’t willing to step in to help these retirees.

He’s supposed to lead the country, but he’s outsourced his decision-making to Leader McConnell.

The Senate must act.

If the entire multiemployer pension system collapses, it will make our economic crisis worse.

We knew before this pandemic that this system could collapse, and it’s only more likely to fail now.

And if that happens, we know who will get hurt the most.

It’s not the Wall Street banks that squandered workers’ money.

It’s small businesses and their employees who did everything right.

And their lives and livelihoods will be devastated if Congress doesn’t do its job.

Workers and retirees in Ohio and around the country have rallied in the name of Butch Lewis, a great Ohioan who helped lead this fight, and passed away far too soon, fighting for his fellow workers.

His wife Rita has continued his fight, and has become a leader and inspiration to so many.

Rita once told me that retirees and workers struggling with this crisis feel like they are invisible. 

These Americans aren’t invisible to me.

They aren’t invisible to Speaker Pelosi, or Leader Schumer, or Senator Smith, or Senator Peters, or Chairman Neal, or Chairman Scott, and many of my colleagues who have worked for years now, trying to find a bipartisan solution.

We aren’t giving up.

It comes back to the dignity of work – when work has dignity, we honor the retirement security people earned.

I urge my colleagues in this body – colleagues with health care and retirement plans paid for by taxpayers – to think about these retired workers and the stress they’re facing.

Join us, and let’s pass a solution that honors their work, and keeps our promise.

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