December 11,2014

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Wyden Criticizes House Proposal On Multiemployer Pensions

Deal is Rushed, Negotiated in Secret and Places Burden on Retirees, Wyden says

WASHINGTONSen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., issued the following statement today regarding legislation negotiated in the House affecting multiemployer pensions. The legislation will be part of the omnibus spending bill Congress is considering this week.


“We’ve seen this movie before and it never ends well – a last-minute scheme worked out largely in private to solve a complex problem without the full and public consideration of Congress,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said.

“This time, the topic is multiemployer pensions and the excuse for hasty action is the need to keep pensions for millions of hard-working mine workers, truck drivers and other retirees from going bankrupt.  And this time, the last-minute scheme was rushed through by a few House members in private during the final days of the legislative year without consideration by the Senate Finance Committee and other committees of jurisdiction. 

“That flawed process has produced a lopsided solution leaving existing retirees to shoulder a disproportionate share of sacrifice. It also will result in the rolling back of a major tenet enshrined in pension law – never take away money a pensioner has already earned.

“Under this bill, for the first time, Congress will allow multiemployer plans to cut retirees’ earned pension benefits.  This is unprecedented and I worry about the impact on retirees and the slippery slope we’re about to head down.  At a minimum, all stakeholders should have the opportunity to understand and deliberate fully the implications of a complicated bill 160-pages long – and we all know that is impossible this late in the game.

“No matter what you think about the underlying policy, legislation this complex and controversial requires thorough review and analysis.  That hasn’t happened. In fact, no one in the Senate, including the committees of jurisdiction, had the opportunity to fully review this bill. 

“Even a single, small, unintentional misstep in the rush to legislate could have serious and negative consequences to retirees and businesses alike.

“I am working hard to protect retirees’ pensions, and jamming this bill through Congress virtually sight unseen is no way to solve this issue.”

BACKGROUND:  Multiemployer plans are collectively bargained pension plans covering employees of two or more employers, usually within the same industry or region, and administered by a board consisting of employer and employee representatives.  There currently are more than 1,400 multiemployer plans covering about 10 million, mostly working class, people. Among the most common industries using these pensions are: mining, trucking, retail trade and service industries and entertainment (film, television and theater).

The financial health of some – but not all – multiemployer pensions is poor, with some facing potential bankruptcy as a result of shifting economic conditions and declines in employment which leave fewer workers supporting each retiree. The most recent estimate by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. is that multiemployer pensions are facing a funding shortfall of $42 billion between what is - or will be - owed to retirees and available funds.