U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer was in Albany today, joining with Teamsters who have suffered cuts to their pension benefits and are at risk of losing even more.
WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas was at the Albany Labor Temple.
According to Schumer’s office, the New York State Teamsters Conference Pension Fund was supposed to pay out an average of $5,000 per month for a retiree with 30 years of service. Approximately 5,500 Capital Region Teamsters from Local 294 are part of the fund. "What we had done in America all along: you worked very hard, you put money in, and now, they're telling you the money isn't there and you have to be cut significantly. And that is unfair, and that is wrong. It is against what America is all about. Plain and simple."
Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, says the benefits were cut by 30 percent last year. He fears more cuts could happen.
Teamster Jimmy Herrick of Canajoharie has been with the union 40 years, and says tightening his belt has been difficult. "But we did a little better than some other people account of our age. See, I'm 78. If I'd been 80 they wouldn't have bothered the pension. It's a kick in the side. You know you get used to what you're gonna have, you know, and then you gotta cut back. It's not fair."
Schumer traces the problem back to Wall Street speculation during the 2008 financial crisis along with structural shifts in the economy. His office says that has put New York multiemployer pension plans in peril. "Why should the people in this audience and the hundreds of thousands literally of others they represent pray the price? There's even a danger the whole thing could fail."
Schumer's solution: "The Butch Lewis Act," which... "...would restore the cuts to your pension and make sure that you can live a life without worrying about in the future. And it's only fair and it's only right. And it would help, I suppose almost everybody in this audience, as well as the many other thousands in 294, as well as the hundreds of thousands across the country. The Butch Lewis Act puts the New York Teamsters Plan back on financial stability."
Schumer says the bill is under negotiation. It would create a new office within the Treasury Department called the Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA). The PRA 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, including Teamster Paul Abrams of Niskayuna. "It's a tough situation that Schumer is putting himself in there. I know he'll try very hard, but nothing is guaranteed with this government."