Published May 5th, 2016 at 4:01 PM
More than a quarter of a million Teamsters and their spouses are facing the very real possibility that their pensions may be reduced up to 70 percent by July 1st, as they await a decision by the United States Treasury Department on the matter this weekend. Managed by the Central States Pension Fund, which handles the retirement benefits for current and former Teamster’s union truck drivers, the pensions have long been seen as untouchable by law. However, legislation attached to the 2015 Omnibus spending bill and passed by Congress last December allowed financially distressed pension funds the right to reduce benefits for retirees without union approval provided it improved the solvency of the fund. Central States Pension Fund, stating it would be bankrupt by 2026 under current conditions, quickly became the first to apply for pension reductions under the new law. Shortly thereafter, around 400,000 Teamsters were mailed non-certified letters with the news: Expect less money in your pension check each month. A lot less.
Protests sprang up all over the country, from Kansas City to Washington D.C. Many protesters called for an investigation, arguing the legislation that gave Central States the authority to cut their pensions got tacked on to the Omnibus bill at the “eleventh hour” and had never been debated in Congress. Others cried foul, noting that they had earned their pensions long ago by taking a reduced paycheck with the promise of being taken care of in their retirement, and that promise had been broken.
Kenneth Feinberg, specially appointed to the Treasury Department by President Barack Obama, has until Saturday to decide whether the Central States Pension Fund restructuring plan is lawful. As of this week, Central States officials were not commenting, only providing an 800 number with a pre-recorded message assuring Teamsters that they “understand the uncertainty and the anxiety as they await the Treasury Department’s decision.” Until then, Teamsters are holding their breath in anticipation of the ruling, many of them racked with stress over the possibility of losing their pensions.
Flatland spoke with five area Teamsters about how their lives have changed since learning about the proposed cuts. Here is what the cuts would do to them, in their own words:
Hear Tom’s Take:
Hear David’s Take:
Hear Cynthia and Ted’s take:
Hear Sally and Jack’s take:
Hear Jerry’s take:
— Follow Flatland’s additional reporting as this story unfolds. Daniel Boothe is a reporter at Kansas City Public Television’s Hale Center for Journalism. To reach Boothe, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.