Senate Democrats Stand with Workers & Retirees as They Demand Action to Protect Pensions and Health Care that Workers Have Earned

Pension Crisis Threatens 1-1.5 Million Workers and Retirees Nationwide, and Could Put Small Businesses across Country in Jeopardy; The House Passed a Solution in July, but Leader McConnell has Betrayed Hardworking Americans by Refusing to Act

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) today joined United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), Teamsters, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and AFL-CIO workers and retirees from across the country to demand Senate action to protect the pensions and health care that workers have earned.

The pension crisis threatens the retirement of more than 1-1.5 million workers and retirees nationwide and could put small businesses across the country in jeopardy. These miners, 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 because Senate Republican leadership has failed to do its job. In addition, if Congress fails to take action, by the end of this year, 1,200 coal miners, their widows, and family members could also lose their health care coverage.

The House already passed a solution to protect these pensions and health care benefits, but Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has betrayed workers and retirees by refusing to act. Democrats today rallied with workers and retirees to demand Senate action from Leader McConnell. 

“The Miners’ Pension Fund alone, a critical plan which covers 82,000 retired miners – 25,000 in West Virginia - and 20,000 full vested current workers, is projected to become insolvent by 2022. If one major coal company goes bankrupt soon, the timeline for pension fund insolvency is significantly sooner. By September 2020 coal miners could see drastic cuts to their benefits if we don’t do something now. If the Miners’ Pension Fund becomes insolvent, a snowball effect will happen, with other pension plans following suit. It has been 285 days since I introduced the American Miners Act, which would protect miners pensions from becoming collateral during coal mine bankruptcies. We must act now. That’s why I’m joining my colleagues on the floor today – to call for the passage of my legislation that will ensure our miners and retirees can retire and live peacefully without the constant worry of losing their hard-earned pensions,” said Senator Manchin.  

“What Washington doesn’t understand is that Ohio workers and retirees gave up raises at the negotiating table because they were counting on these pensions and benefits when they retired. It’s up to us to ensure that these workers and their families receive the full benefits they earned over a lifetime of hard work,” said Senator Brown. “I am grateful to the Ohio workers, retirees and businesses whose tireless efforts have brought us this far, and I am committed to continuing to fight until Congress passes the pension solution Ohioans deserve.”

“A pension is a promise that’s earned and workers should be able to count on it when they retire,” said Senator Stabenow. “There is no question that pension funds are facing serious challenges that are not the fault of workers or retirees. American families have waited long enough. It’s time for Leader McConnell to stop stalling and to take action.”

“It’s unconscionable that more than one million hard working Americans, who put money aside from paycheck after paycheck and traded raises and other benefits for the promise of financial security down the road, now find that future in jeopardy, and at no fault of their own,” said Leader Schumer. “The American people should be able trust that when they work hard, they’ll get what they’ve earned—not get stabbed in the back. This pensions crisis is a complete and total betrayal of the American worker, and Senator McConnell and Senate Republicans must step up and pass the House-passed, bipartisan Butch Lewis Act immediately.”

“There are more than a million workers nationwide wondering whether the futures they were promised, the retirements they planned for,  and the pensions they earned over a lifetime of hard work, will be thrown into jeopardy through absolutely no fault of their own. This isn’t fair and we simply cannot let it happen,” said Senator Murray. “It’s time for Republicans to come to the table and work with us to pass a solution before it’s too late.”

Republicans shoveled hundreds of billions in tax cuts to corporations and high fliers, but they have done nothing to ensure Americans who worked their entire careers in coal mines and factories can keep a roof over their heads and go to the doctor. Leader McConnell owes it to these workers to put a solution that protects workers on the floor for a vote,” said Senator Wyden.

“I worked in a coal mine for more than 30 years, always giving up wages at the bargaining table so that it could go into my pension and retiree health care,” said retired mine worker Rick Ryan. “When you work in a coal mine for so many years, your body gets beat up. We know we will need benefits in retirement.   Congress saved my health care in 2017, and I am very grateful for that. But the job isn’t finished. Our pension plan is on the edge of insolvency, and we need action now.”

"As we start another day, as we have the last 5-6 plus years, trying to solve the pension crises that is looming over our heads, nipping at our heels, while some members of the House and Senate keep kicking the can down the road, doing nothing to solve the pension issue other than pointing fingers at everyone but themselves, there is and has been framework to solve this issue,” said Teamster retiree Mike Walden. “Let's do it before the national economy and our lives that earned, payed for and built this great nation diminish because of power politics. In the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King "The time is always right to do what is right"

“A pension is more than just dollars and cents. It’s a promise. In exchange for a lifetime of hard work and your own financial contributions, you can count on a secure and respectable retirement,” said IBEW International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth Cooper. “This promise is now under threat for countless union families around the country. The House of Representatives has acted and passed the bipartisan Butch Lewis Act to protect at-risk pensions. It is time for the Senate to step up and protect the promise of a respectable retirement before it’s too late.” 

“The pension is my lifeline. Even a ten percent cut could bankrupt me. I would lose my home,” said BCTGM retiree Mike Offenback. “I earned my pension over a lifetime of hard work.”

Read more about the crisis and need for a solution here.

Numerous pension plans, including the Central States Pension Plan, the United Mine Workers Pension Plan, the Bakers and Confectioners Pension Plan, and more are currently on the brink of failure. Several other plans have already had to cut benefits. If nothing is done to 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 Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) would be on the hook for billions of dollars it cannot pay. PBGC is the arm of the federal government that insures pension plans.

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.

###