Thousands rally for private pension fix

  • Dean Mahoney, touring percussionist from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and aspiring member of the American Federation of Musicians, lends his support to union members fighting for their pensions. He said the fight is about future pensions, not only those already earned.


COLUMBUS — Thousands rallied on the lawn of the Ohio Statehouse Thursday in advance of a congressional hearing Friday seeking a way to save private pensions considered to be on the brink of failure.

If pensions that have not recovered from the 2008 recession should go under, some 1.3 million retirees nationally, including some 66,000 in Ohio, could lose their benefits entirely or see them cut.

“An attack on one worker is an attack on all workers, and seeing working people come together to fight for what’s right, to have the American people rally with us to protect the benefits we’ve earned is a beautiful thing,” AFL-CIO President Tim Burga told the crowd that filled the lawn in front of the Statehouse and wound around both sides of the building.

“Nothing is more sacred than the promise of a secure retirement after a lifetime of hard work,” he said.

Taxpayers could also find themselves on the hook if the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. that insures such pension plans should collapse under the weight of failing systems. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the tab to taxpayers could be $101 billion over 20 years.

In a rare hearing on the road to be held Friday at the Statehouse, the 16-member House and Senate Joint Select Committee on Pensions, co-chaired by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) and Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), will hear testimony from workers, businesses, and union officials on the potential impacts.

The committee, on which U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) also serves, is charged with coming up with a potential fix to the problem to be presented to Congress by late November.

The affected union pension funds affect coal miners, truckers, bakers, carpenters, and others.



WATCH: AFL-CIO Ohio President Tim Burga speaks to thousands gathered on the Statehouse lawn in Columbus.

Dean Mahoney, a traveling band percussionist from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., hopes to join the American Federation of Musicians. He said he and the band’s bassist thought it was important that they participate in a rally in Columbus even as decisions will ultimately be made in Washington.

“We’re in a pension crisis,” he said. “My generation is working as hard as we can into a pension system we’re worried isn’t going to be around. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“We can’t get rid of pensions for generations that have worked for them, because then where’s the solidarity for us younger workers?” he asked. “If we can’t be in it altogether, there’s no fight.”

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union supports the idea behind the proposed Butch Lewis Act, a Brown-sponsored bill named for a retired Teamster from West Chester who died while battling cuts to the union’s pensions.

“Sherrod Brown’s bill — the Butch Lewis approach, the long-term, low-interest loan approach — works best for our fund and would be most effective in resolving the problems our fund faces,” Harry Kaiser, the union’s assistant to the president, said prior to the rally.

It was clear among the signs carried at the rally outside that many in the crowd agreed with him.

Union President David Durkee stressed the bill does not represent a bailout. The bill would provide for long-term loans that would be repaid by the unions and ultimately their members.

“We’re fighting for what we think we can get,” he said. “We’re trying to gauge the appetite of Congress. What will help these retirees continue with their present retirement benefits? I think if we went to Congress and said we want a bailout, they’re not even going to listen to us.”

Friday’s hearing will mark the committee’s fifth and its first on the road outside of Washington.

Among those expected to testify are two witnesses from northwest Ohio: Bill Martin, president of Spangler Candy Company in Bryan and Roberta Dell, the chief union steward.



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Support Our Right to Join in Union AFL-CIO

Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 is an attempt by the rich to use the Supreme Court to further rig the economic playing field against workers. Working people know what we need to build a better life and will keep fighting for justice. Share this to support workers’ right to join together in union.

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Strong Unions, Stronger Communities

When working people have the freedom to come together in strong unions, entire communities benefit. Unions give everyday working people the power in numbers they need to make their communities safer and stronger, and they are critical to fixing an economy rigged in favor of the rich and powerful.

Whether it’s EMS workers negotiating for better staff ratios that decrease emergency response times, or teachers speaking up together for smaller class sizes, this report underscores that strong unions are needed now more than ever.

The case studies included in this report are just a few examples of the many ways strong unions are making our communities and our country stronger for everyone.

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Richard L. Trumka: AFL-CIO Convention 2017: Democracy and Unions

Richard L. Trumka
October 23, 2017St. Louis, Missouri

Thank you, Liz. Good morning brothers and sisters.

I hope you got some rest. We have a busy day ahead of us. And a canvass this afternoon!

I’d like to begin with a video.

As you can see, the attacks against us are relentless.

And they are taking a toll.

Listen to this: A Harvard University study showed that only 30% of millennials believe it’s essential to live in a democratic nation. 30%!

I believe the findings of this poll are directly related to the video we just watched.

Think about it: what has been the result of the attacks on working people?

-Lower Wages

-Less Opportunity

-More Inequality

-Social Unrest

-And a feeling that the economy is rigged

Millennials have never lived in an America where wages are growing, or worked in an economy where hard work and productivity blazed a trail into the middle class. They have never experienced an economy where more than 1 in 10 workers have the freedom to belong to a union and bargain together. The American idea that anything is possible if you work hard and play by the rules simply does not exist for many young people.

In other words, the attacks on the backbone of our nation—working people—constitutes nothing less than a clear and present danger to our democracy.

So we are going to fight back. Smartly. Strategically. As one united movement.

That is the primary focus of today’s session.

We are going to fight back against right to work, here in Missouri and across the country.

We are going to fight back against attacks on our wages, benefits and freedom to negotiate for good jobs.

And we are going to fight back against the right-wing propaganda machine that continues to slander unions and our members.

We’re going to do it by organizing.

In the face of right to work and Janus, we are laser focused on building enduring relationships with our members. That means engaging directly with them—and not just during election time. We need to listen to our members. We need to find out what they care about. We need to learn what makes them tick. And we need to remember most people work to live rather than live to work.

We also need to remember that right to work does not take collective bargaining rights away from a single worker.

And it does not force a single union member to stop paying dues unless they choose to.

In other words, right to work cannot and should not stop us from doing our job—organizing new members, engaging with current ones and providing the best representation in the world. That is, brothers and sisters, how we toss the destructive and morally bankrupt right to work principle into the scrap heap where it belongs.

Today we will highlight some great examples of this work.

We’re also going to fight back by being on the front lines of today’s civil rights struggles.

Immigrant rights. Equal pay. LGBTQ equality. Voting rights. The right to form a union freely and fairly.

I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again today. When it comes to civil rights, we cannot afford to be in the middle of the pack. We must be the tip of the spear.

Later today, my friend AFSCME President Lee Saunders will talk about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King gave his life speaking out for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

And he reminded us that right to work is a false slogan, designed to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

The anniversary of Dr. King’s death is a reminder that there will forever be a bond between job rights and civil rights —that our struggles are not separate but in fact linked both by history and today’s profound struggles.

So the question we must ask ourselves is this: how will we respond?

Brothers and sisters, the answer is right in front of our face.

This movement is the single greatest force for good for America.

We give voice to the voiceless.

We fight for a fair and just economy.

We protect the public services that make our country good and decent.

And we make sure no one is left behind.

We’re ready for a fight.

Our opponents are bold.

They’re well-funded and ruthless – but their North Star is greed, ours is solidarity and fairness.

Well, we’ve taken their best shot and we’re still standing.

Unions are here to stay.

We’re ready to join together, fight together and win together.

America is counting on us.

So let’s get to work.

Thank you.

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