WASHINGTON, D.C. – Standing with retired Teamsters and miners today, leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate endorsed U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) bill to ensure retirees can keep the pensions they’ve earned, and made clear the bill is a top priority, boosting the chances it will get passed this year.

“It’s bad enough that Wall Street squandered workers’ money – and it’s worse that the government that’s supposed to look out for these folks is trying to break the promise made to these workers. We can’t allow that to happen,” Brown said.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “Democrats are offering hard-working Americans across the country a better deal to protect their pensions, because the families of our ironworkers, truck drivers, steelworkers, and many more deserve a secure and bright future. This new proposal is a priority for Democrats.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “Democrats are committed to defending the dignity of a secure retirement for millions of hardworking Americans. Across the nation, families are worried about what pension fund insolvency and life-threatening cuts will mean to their economic security. Today, Democrats are unveiling the newest legislation in our Better Deal Agenda  to strengthen the retirement security of workers and guarantee the full benefits workers have earned over a lifetime of hard work.”

Numerous Ohio pension plans, including the massive Central States Teamsters Pension Plan, the United Mine Workers Pension Plan, the Ironworkers Local 17 Pension Plan, the Ohio Southwest Carpenters Pension Plan and the Bakers and Confectioners Pension Plan are currently on the brink of failure and threatened by massive cuts.

Brown formally introduced legislation today, the Butch Lewis Act, to put the pension plans back on solid footing and ensure they can meet their obligations to current retirees and workers for decades to come, without cuts. A version of the bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives. Brown named the bill after Butch Lewis, the former retired head of Teamsters Local 100 in Evendale, Ohio. Butch’s wife, Rita Lewis spoke at the press conference today, along with retired coal miner Dave Dilly from Coshocton County.   

Dilly is a Vietnam War veteran, and served as his local United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President. Dilly has lobbied alongside his fellow UMWA members for several years to protect their hard-earned healthcare and pensions. Rita’s late husband, Butch Lewis, was a Vietnam War veteran who worked for 40 years as a trucker and Teamster. He was the head of his Teamsters Local 100 in Evendale, Ohio, where he led the fight to preserve his fellow Teamsters’ pensions. He passed away in 2015, and now Rita continues his fight, lobbying for Teamsters’ retirement security.

 Brown’s Butch Lewis Act would:

1. Put failing pension plans back on solid ground to ensure they can meet their commitments to retirees today and workers for decades to come.

2. Do so without cutting a single cent from the benefits retirees have earned.

3. Put safeguards in place to encourage pensions to remain strong so they can be there for today’s workers when they retire.

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 would be at risk of having to pay billions because the Pension Benefit Guarantee 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.  

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Gary Peters (D-MI) are the bill’s cosponsors.

How does the Butch Lewis Act Work?

This legislation would allow pension plans to borrow the money they need to remain solvent and continue providing retirement security for retirees and workers for decades to come.

The money for the would come from the sale of Treasury-issued bonds to financial institutions.

To ensure that the pension plans can afford to repay the loans, Treasury would lend them money for 30 years at low interest rates. The 30-year loans would buy time for the pension plans to make smart long-term investments for the future, while continuing to pay benefits owed to current retirees.   

The bill would not allow any plan to borrow more than it can pay back to taxpayers. It would also prohibit any borrowed funds from being used to make risky investments. And it requires plans that borrow money to submit reports every three years to demonstrate that the plans are on track to getting back on solid footing.

The PBGC would fill the gap between money borrowed and any additional funding needed to pay benefits owed to current retirees while the plans get back on track. The bill provides this money to the PBGC, but any money needed for the PBGC would be a tiny fraction of what it would otherwise be on the hook for if Congress fails to act.