Electing Bernie May Not Keep Our Pension Promises

Heart-rending accounts of the impact of Central States proposed cutbacks abound. Teamsters and supporters will march on Washington, Friday, April 14, 2016 (a few days before income taxes are due – later this year on account of Emancipation Day). https://teamster.org/news/2016/03/teamsters-retirees-rally-washington-dc-protect-pensions

Many put their hopes in Senator Sanders’ Keep Our Pension Promises Act or KOPPA. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1631/text

If enacted as drafted (ha ha ha), KOPPA would set up a $29 billion fund within PBGC to help cover underfunded pensions without resorting to the harsh medicine of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act. [full disclosure:  ERISANation’s principal worked on MPRA.  It is harsh. It was and is necessary].

See also the Miners Protection Act which seeks to help participants in the United Mineworkers Plans.

KOPPA reminds us of the 2009 Pomeroy-Tiberi bill, also known as the Pomeroy-Casey bill. http://tiberi.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=151619.

First proposed in 2009  by a Democrat and Republican as principle sponsors, it would have fully funded the PBGC which might have positioned that agency to provide a greater safety net for Central States pensioners.  Remember then the Democrats held the Presidency, and the House, and the Senate.  Pomeroy-Tiberi did not merit a single hearing.  Some of us tried including my old Chairman, MIchael J. Sullivan who spoke at a press conference, wrote a Politico piece, and other wise tried to get an audience.

Pomeroy-Tiberi-Casey quickly lost steam after characterized as another bailout bill. Worse still it was wrongly characterized as a “union bailout.”  In fact, given that a contributing employer’s liability to multiemployer plans extend beyond just making contributions, it should have been called an employer bailout bill.

The nation had spent billions on banks, and insurers, and manufacturers. Adding a few billion more to our deficit for modest workers pensions was a bridge too far.  ERISANation thought naively that the power of shame might be employed.  “Darn right we want a bailout, like you bailed out shareholders and bondholders and the powerful.”  But shame, where is thy sting?  Labor had so many friends on the Hill, but the friends had all dispersed after the signing ceremony on the Affordable Care Act, and then many no longer served after the 2010 elections.  As Wikepedia tells us:  “Although the President’s party usually loses congressional, statewide and local seats in a midterm elections, the 2010 midterm election season featured some of the biggest losses since the Great Depression.”

Why this time, is it different?  In an election year and the prospect of a divided government continuing past the election, it isn’t.  Suppose the Dems win big in November?  Should we expect KOPPA in the first 100 days?   I would not be sanguine.  Senator Sanders intends to open the Tax Code up for a pay-for.  That proverbial can of squirms cannot be opened for just one little adjustment.

My Remarks Upon Receiving the 2015 John L. Lewis Award

Marc’s Remarks Upon Receiving 2015 John L. Lewis Award

Thank you, Randy, and thanks to the Executive Board and all of you for this award. I am very touched by the presence of so many friends and colleagues, most of whom I am delighted to see.

A note on the venue, I was here the first week the new Diplomat opened. Years before in the 1990’s, I worked on a settlement of Diplomat litigation including arbitration before the late great Nell Hennessy. And have been here many, many times. Oddly enough, my spouse has never been here. Stacia Davis LeBlanc, Esq., please raise your hand. She is not the power behind the throne, she is the throne. Staci said, oh cool I finally have a chance to see the Dip (but I bet Randy makes you do a session – that of course was true). I told Staci she should been here years ago – the heyday oh so long ago – Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and my friend Bill Sweeney, the leader of the Plumbers’ National Fund.

I want to speak today particularly to the fund staff, the administrators, executive directors, processors, receptionists, etc. It is you, more than counsel (I know I was one), actuaries, or investment professionals who are the hearts and souls of our funds. Sorry my Segal friends, you know it is true.

Fund staffers must never hope that plan administration will be easy. Do not dream that that you’ll be free from change, from struggle, from worry. Remember it is not our objective to make things easy, to reach a point of having arrived, to be at rest. We have a saying at my Fund, “Tell the Trustees something is hard, and they will tell you to do it.”

There is no rest in this business. Your objective is to use each day and every crisis to further the mission. Always ask when something seems important or serious, or challenging or even demeaning – what does this have to do with paying benefits? The less it has to do with that, the less important it is.

When Randy told me about this honor, I demurred. I rarely suffer from false modesty…

Want to read more, great, but I haven’t figured out how to do a one-click link!  Send ERISANation a note http://erisanation.com/contact/ for a full pdf.  

JOHN L. LEWIS AWARD

Last year, yours truly was honored to receive the John L. Lewis Award from the multiemployer benefits industry.  The National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, http://nccmp.org, selects the recipients.  Here is a list of honorees since the Award’s inception in 2001 as well as a brief note on the reasons for a an honoree’s selection.

JOHN L. LEWIS AWARD RECIPIENTS, 2001 THRU 2015     

  1. 2001    Richard L. Trumka, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO for his work in the establishment of the Center for Working Capital;
  2. 2002 Landon Butler, for his work in the creation of the Multi-Employer Property Trust, one of the first and largest union-only job creating REITs;
  3. 2003 Martin E. Segal creator and former Chairman of The Segal Company for a lifetime of work in the development and service of multiemployer plans;
  4. 2004 Earl Hall, for his work in promoting grass-roots support for our efforts in obtaining relief against the historically unprecedented investment losses suffered in the early 2000s;
  5. 2005     John Pappas, a life-long leader in the provision of insurance services to multiemployer plans;
  6. 2006 James S. Ray, one of the country’s leading ERISA counsel and a 30 year member of the NCCMP working committee who took the lead in many legislative issues concerning multiemployer plans;
  7. 2007 Chris Heinz, for his leadership and support in the effort to obtain funding reform for multiemployer pension plans;
  8. 2008 Representative Rob Andrews for assistance in passing the Pension Protection Act;
  9. 2009 Vincent Panvini, Legislative Director, Sheet Metal Workers International Association, for leading a successful campaign to prevent taxation of employer sponsored health benefits;
  10. 2010 Phyllis C. Borzi, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefit Security Administration, for a lifetime of service to the multiemployer community.
  11. 2011 Michael Sullivan, for his leadership in preserving defined benefit pensions in the Sheet Metal Industry;
  12. 2012 Judith F. Mazo, former Senior Vice President and Director of Research of the Segal Company for freely shared expertise addressing complex multiemployer plan issues;
  13. 2013 Patrick D. Finley, General President of the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons International Association;
  14. 2014 David S. Blitzstein, retired Special Assistant to the General President for multiemployer funds, United Food and Commercial Workers; and
  15. 2015 Marc Le Blanc, retired Fund Administrator and General Counsel, Sheet Metal Workers National Pension Fund, recognizing his career of service to participants in multiemployer pension and health and welfare funds.