News Conference by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Marcy Kaptur on Legislation to Restore Pension Guarantees for Thousands of Retired Union Workers
SANDERS: Before -- thank you all very much for coming. Before we begin the very, very important discussion on pensions, I think it's appropriate that we all take a moment to think about the tragedy that took place last night in Charleston, which the Charleston church killings are a tragic reminder of the ugly stain of racism that still taunts and taints our nation.
This senseless violence fills me and I believe all Americans with outrage, with disgust and with a deep, deep sadness. The hateful killing of nine people who were praying inside a church is a horrific reminder that while we have made in our country significant progress in advancing civil rights, we are very far from eradicating racism. Our thoughts and our prayers are with the families and their congregation.
SANDERS: Let me thank all of the people who are with us today on an issue of huge, huge consequence. And this is an issue, by the way, that does not -- doesn't just touch these workers. It endangers every work in America who has been promised a pension.
So let me begin by thanking Marcy Kaptur, Tim Ryan, John Murphy and other political leaders who are here. Robert Roach, who is with the International Association of Machinists. And I also want to thank Frank Bryant for joining us to share his personal story of how these proposed pension cuts will impact retirees.
More than 40 years ago the federal government made a solemn commitment to the workers of this country. If a retiree is promised a certain pension benefit after a lifetime of hard work, a company could not renege on that promise.
That commitment 40 years ago was exactly the right thing to do. When someone works for their entire life, gives up pay raises, gives up health care benefits in order to make sure that they will have a secure retirement, it is absolutely unacceptable to pull the rug out from underneath that worker. [cheers and applause]
This is not a negotiation over wage increases. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you don't. This is not a negotiation over health care benefits. This is a promise made to workers and paid for by workers that simply cannot be nullified if people are to have any faith in our system.
UNKNOWN: Yes. [cheers and applause]
SANDERS: But last year, behind closed doors, a provision was slipped into a must-pass spending bill that now makes it legal to cut the pension benefits of about 1.5 million workers and retirees in troubled, multiemployer pension plans. As a result, retirees all over this country are waking up to the unacceptable reality that the promises made to them could be broken, and that the pension benefits they are receiving today may soon be cut by 30, 40 or even 65 percent.
UNKNOWN: Yes, sir.
SANDERS: This is incomprehensible. What this means is that retirees who are currently receiving a pension benefit of $18,000 a year, paid for by a lifetime of hard work, are in danger of seeing that benefit cut by up to $3,800 or a 21 percent cut. Retirees who are currently receiving a pension benefit of $36,000 a year could see their pension benefits cut by up to $21,000, a 60 percent cut.
In other words, tens of thousands of retirees all across our country who are in the middle class today, who have worked their entire life to be in the middle class, their dreams of a happy and secure retirement could be replaced by poverty and insecurity if we do not act. And we are determined to act.
UNKNOWN: Yes, sir. [cheers and applause]
UNKNOWN: Tell it like it is.
SANDERS: Today we send a very clear message to the Republican leadership and to the president of the United States. When a promise is made to the working people of this country, with respect to their pensions, with respect to the idea that people have a right to live their retirement years with dignity and not in poverty, those promises have got to be kept.
So today what we are saying is that we are going to revisit that legislation...
AUDIENCE: Yes. [cheers and applause]
SANDERS: ... benefits.
UNKNOWN: We earned it. We earned it.
AUDIENCE: We earned it. Yes. We earned it.
UNKNOWN: Thank you, Bernie.
SANDERS: And we are also going to say that if Congress can bail out Wall Street and foreign banks...
UNKNOWN: Yes, sir.
SANDERS: ... throughout the world... [cheers and applause]
SANDERS: You know what? We're going to stand up and protect these people who have worked their entire lives for a secure retirement. [cheers and applause]
The legislation that I'm introducing today with Marcy Kaptur and Tim Ryan and others in the House, and Senators Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin in the Senate, would prevent the retirement benefits of about 1.5 million workers -- retirees from being cut by repealing the anti-pension rider in last year's appropriation bill. [cheers and applause]
What we are doing is establishing an emergency fund within the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation to make sure that multiemployer pension plans can continue to provide every pension benefit owed to every eligible American for decades to come. [cheers and applause]
And it is fully paid for by closing two tax loopholes that allow the wealthiest Americans in this country to avoid paying their fair share of estate taxes and gift taxes.
So bottom line here is that when people work their entire lives for a secure retirement and promises were made to those workers by their employers and by the federal government, we have got to keep those promises. And all of us here are going to work hard to make sure that those promises are in fact kept.
UNKNOWN: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. [cheers and applause]
AUDIENCE: Bernie. Bernie. Bernie.
SANDERS: And now...
AUDIENCE: Bernie. Bernie. Bernie. Bernie...
SANDERS: Thank you. It's not about me. It's not about me, it's about you. It's about you.
All right. Now I want to introduce a woman who has been a fighter for decades for working people in every area of our life. Please welcome Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. [cheers and applause]
KAPTUR: Senator Sanders, it is a privilege to join you here on the Senate side. My colleagues Tim Ryan of Ohio and Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania believe in this bill so much that they have taken a few moments away from a very serious debate about Trade Promotion Authority to come here to the Senate side.
I want to thank all those who've joined us from around the country who understand what it is to work hard for a living, and what it means to have a pension there for you when you retire. It's your livelihood, and you've earned it and you deserve it. And you deserve it.
AUDIENCE: Yes. [applause]
KAPTUR: I'm here to say that along with Senator Sanders in the House we have a companion bill, the Keep Our Pension Promise Act. And it has been introduced. It's written. It's a companion bill.
And we're facing elections for the Congress coming up very soon, and obviously for the presidency. And we expect this bill to be part of the debate. All right?
KAPTUR: So we're here on serious business. We know that at least 1.5 million Americans who are represented by those who've taken time to be with us today, are immediately impacted, and will find their benefit checks cut, as Senator Sanders said, by 35 to 70 percent.
We adopt the motto of the Marine Corps here today. We leave no soldier behind. We leave no soldier behind in America, OK? [applause]
And we are here to fight for this act. And to do it in a way that makes sure that the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation remains whole, but that for those pension plans and those pensioners who may have difficulty, we create a special fund. And we will find ways, as Wall Street has always found ways, to make sure that Congress takes care of all of the American people, not just some.
And we find the funds to fill the gap from those who are part of the 1 percent who have artwork and very, very large holdings. And we find a way to fill the gap in the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation Fund to fund these pensions in that way.
So I guess you could say it's deficit-neutral in terms of what we do. And essentially the result is we prevent people who have worked their entire lives from being thrown into poverty and having more worry in their retirement years.
What could be more important than rewarding work in our country? And it's not easy.
I want to allow time for my colleagues from Pennsylvania and Ohio to speak, so I'll be brief. But I can tell you, a member of our family drove truck his entire life in Ohio. And he's had it very difficult. He's not 62 yet, but he's completely disabled. He was forced by -- several companies closed, several shipping companies. He would come to work and all of a sudden the gate was shuttered and that company was then closed. And he had to go to work somewhere else. And he was made to drive more hours per day. Some of you might've been through that. Even ended up in companies where he had to then load the truck, which really wasn't his job as the driver. But he ended up having massive heart failure because of all of that. And I think about someone like that who's not even retirement age yet and has a wife to support, and what he's facing and how difficult, how difficult this family has had it over the last decade because of the hard work -- his belief in hard work. He never wanted a handout. He wanted to work for a living. He had to drive halfway across the country, you know, into the New Jersey region, for example, where there's a lot of traffic and a little bit different than Ohio sometimes. And just as one person in America, what that worker has faced, what that family has faced because what hard work exacts out of those who do it. So we respect the work that you've done. And we say that in your retirement years you have a right to the pensions that you've earned.
UNKNOWN: Yes, ma'am.
KAPTUR: And if this government could bail out Wall Street and not penalize them, why can't this government reward those who've worked hard for a living and have done what's right? We need to keep our pension promise to you.
Thank you so very much. [cheers and applause]
Let me ask our colleagues from the House, Congressman Tim Ryan and Congressman Brendan Boyle if they would like to add a word.
BOYLE: I'll just speak for a moment. I'm Congressman Brendan Boyle. I'm from Pennsylvania. It's an honor to be here. Thank you. All right. We have one Pennsylvanian here at least. [laughter]
Honored to be here with Marcy Kaptur and Tim Ryan from the House and Bernie Sanders from the Senate.
I'm just going to speak brief, and I'm not going to speak about myself. I'm going to speak about my dad. Along with my mom, the main reason why I'm here.
My dad, as I was telling someone earlier, was an Acme Markets warehouseman with teamster Local 169 for 25 years. For the last 15 years he's been a janitor.
He would still be in that warehouse today coming up on his 40th year had Acme Markets not picked up and moved to a jurisdiction where they could layoff all their union workers and hire people for half the wages and half the benefits.
UNKNOWN: Yes. Yes.
BOYLE: But, as my dad is approaching retirement and he asks his son, who happens to be a member of Congress, to do his financial planning -- that might be his first mistake. But I'm the one doing it, and I think a lot of families are in the same situation.
The pillars of my dad's retirement are twofold: Social Security that he paid into over his entire life of working, and that pension from supermarkets warehouse Local 169.
Now, after 40 years of work, someone's going to come along and say that pension you paid into, that pension that you were promised, that pension that you gave up at the bargaining table pay increases for year after year, now at the end of your life when you're most vulnerable and can no longer work, we're going to pull that rug from out underneath you.
That is wrong. That is un-American and we're not going to allow it to happen. [cheers and applause]
One of the great advances of the 20th century was the pension. The reason why the 20th century was known as the American century in part was because America had the biggest middle class in the history of the world. Pensions, along with other provisions, helped make that happen.
I am not going to be part of a Congress that in the 21st century is going to see that disappear, that is going to see the American middle class disappear. We will not allow that to happen. It is time to fight and keep our pensions and keep our American middle class.
UNKNOWN: Yes , sir. [cheers and applause]
UNKNOWN: Thank you, sir. Thank you.
RYAN: Thank you. I'm Tim Ryan from Akron and Youngstown, Ohio. I'm proud to be here with Senator Sanders... [cheers and applause]
RYAN: There we go.
I'm proud to be here with Senator Sanders and support Senator Brown and Baldwin and my friend Marcy Kaptur. This is a huge issue in our community. And I think the main point is what Senator Sanders said. If you're negotiating a contract, you are negotiating wages and benefits and all the rest. And you say instead of paying me now, I want you to take some of this money and invest it or put it somewhere, and I want it when I can't work anymore.
When I can't get in a truck and drive it for eight hours across state lines in bad weather. And then I want it back.
RYAN: That was the promise that's in this legislation. And that's the promise that was violated.
UNKNOWN: Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Yes, sir.
RYAN: And our obligation as legislators, because we are the only thing that stands between a system that's broken and the men and women who work in America. And so we have an obligation to stand up, step up and do what's right and make sure that we get this fixed.
It is a matter of respect because if we can't help people who play by the rules, work hard...
UNKNOWN: Yes, sir.
RYAN: ... every single day, work weekends ,miss soccer matches, miss baseball games, miss hanging out with their kid so that they can make a living and give their kids a better life. If we can't help them, what in the hell are we doing here?
UNKNOWN: Yes, sir. [cheers and applause]
RYAN: So, I want to share two brief stories because these are people who call my office in Youngstown, Ohio. These aren't made up. This isn't a theoretical discussion. Someone called our office, worked for a freight and leaseway company for 42 years, delivering cars to the local auto plant. After the legislation passed, they get the letter. Anybody here get the letter?
UNKNOWN: Oh yes.
RYAN: And in the letter he was informed his pension would be cut, but he'd be notified at some point as to what level, but it could be cut up to 110 percent, which means his pension would go from $3,200 a month to $2,000. You're stealing $1,200 or $1,300 from this person.
Another woman came in, the wife of a pensioner, worked for a variety of trucking companies in the Youngstown area, ended his employment. Similar letter that he got. He was currently -- he is currently receiving $3,000 a month and he could be dramatically reduced, again, down to $2,000 or less a month.
I'm proud to stand up here with the senator and my fellow colleagues from the House. We got a lot of work to do. But this comes down to the fact are we going to respect the worker?
Are we going to continue to have a Congress that caters to the top 1 percent and the people who just move money around for a living? And I think you know where we stand up here. Thank you so much. [cheers and applause]
SANDERS: Thank you, Tim. [applause]
And let me now introduce John Murphy, who was with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. John? [cheers and applause]
MURPHY: Thank you, Senator Sanders.
Good afternoon, everyone, or good morning. On behalf of Teamster's General President Jim Hoffa and General Secretary Treasurer Ken Hall, I'm here today to thank Senator Sanders, Reps. Marcy Kaptur, Tim Ryan, Brendan Boyle and the other sponsors of legislation to do what was done to you last December.
What they are doing, these sponsors, are saying to Congress that it's time to honor the pledge that was made to the American people in 1974 when ERISA was passed, covering single employer plans and multiemployer plans. That law was passed because of the collapse of corporate pension plans in the 1960s and 1970s.
What that law said, and it was a promise, as the senator and the representatives have said. It was a promise that workers and retirees would be protected from having ever again to suffer the loss of their hard-earned retirement benefits due to unfunded and underfunded pension plan. That law, ERISA, has turned out to be a colossal failure.
Right now bankruptcy laws trump your pension rights. The senator and the representatives are -- as part of that bill are going to say pension benefits for retirees are as good as corporate debt. Bankruptcy has been used by companies as an easy pass-away for them to seek to avoid what they promised to you when you worked for them.
UNKNOWN: Yes. That's right.
MURPHY: The federal agency, the PBGC, that the senator mentioned, which was established to provide the assurance to protect your pension from being reduced, is inadequately funded and is itself expected to be insolvent within 10 years. That's why the senator is putting new money into that agency with this bill.
The net consequences of the failure of this Congress to accomplish what it promised back in 1974, the protection of retirement benefits, is that millions of workers and retirees are nearly as exposed to the risk of losing retirement benefits as their grandparents and parents. And Congress supposedly fixed that problem back in the 1970s.
UNKNOWN: Yes. They sure did.
MURPHY: Now we have this law passed in December. That promise that Congress made in 1974, which has been broken, the consequences of that are now being put on the American worker and retirees, the people that it was supposed to protect.
It requires that the most severe cuts and accrued benefits be first imposed on workers and retirees who were under benefits working for companies that are no longer in benefit -- in business, excuse me.
All of this is a tragedy and an affront to the American dream that all of us believed in when we were younger and still believe in now. We see it under attack. And I want to thank the senator and the representatives from Congress for willing to come up here and say we stand with workers. [applause]
Because that's what this is all about. [applause]
So in closing... [applause]
In closing, Senator Sanders, Reps. Kaptur, Boyle and Ryan, the Teamsters union is grateful for what you are trying to do. We appreciate your efforts to protect the pensions of working people.
Because of this you have earned the friendship of (the Teamsters union. And we never forget those who are our friends. Thank you very much. [cheers and applause]
SANDERS: John, thank you very much.
It's now my pleasure to introduce Robert Roach, who's with the International Association of Machinists. Robert? [cheers and applause]
ROACH: Thank you, senator. On behalf of International President Tom Buffenbarger, I've come to thank Senator Sanders, Reps. Kaptur, Boyle and Ryan, and all the other representatives who are standing with us and working people in America today to protect their pension security.
The IAM knows full well what can happen to a pension plan because during the airline crisis after 9/11, thousands -- tens of thousands of people lost their pension plans through bankruptcy. And the IAM, through its well-funded multiemployer plan, protected those pensions. And those people are enjoying pension rights today.
The legislation that was enacted threatens the very integrity of the entire system. And therefore, millions and millions of people will be jeopardized by this legislation. Therefore, the IAM stands strong with Senator Sanders, Rep. Kaptur and others to pass this legislation to reverse the harm that was done to the working people of America.
Without a strong middle class, without strong senior citizens, the entire economy is at risk. And when the economy is at risk, the nation's security is at risk. This is an important issue.
Again, when the law was passed 40 years ago to protect pensions, that was the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do today to reverse the injustice that was done.
UNKNOWN: Yes, sir.
ROACH: ... in the middle of the night.
ROACH: Without the support of the American people.
UNKNOWN: Swept it under the rug.
ROACH: And we stand 600,000 strong active and retired machinist union with these representatives to do everything that we can to reverse the injustice, to walk to Capitol Hill, to knock on doors and make the people aware that while Citigroup, Bank of America, AIG was bailed out to the tune of $250 billion ,they can't find $10 billion or $15 billion to bail out the American worker. It's an injustice that must be answered. [cheers and applause]
And it must be answered through this legislation. Thank you very much.
UNKNOWN: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. [cheers and applause]
SANDERS: Thanks, Robert.
UNKNOWN: Give us what we earned.
UNKNOWN: We earned it.
SANDERS: I would like to also now bring up Frank Bryant to share his personal story of how these proposed pension cuts will impact retirees. Frank?
BRYANT: Thank you, Senator.
Hello. My name is Frank Bryant and I am a co-founder of the North Carolina Committee to Protect Pensions. And we were formed to fight the terrible pension cuts that are allowed under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014.
I am honored today to be joined by so many other retirees from around the country who came by the busloads this morning to support this important legislation.
I want to thank Senator Sanders and Rep. Kaptur and the other cosponsors for introducing this important piece of legislation today, and to thank the national labor leaders who are here to support it also. I want to also thank the Pension Rights Center for their support.
I drove a truck for UPS for 31 years and retired in 2003 after I wrecked my health doing this back-breaking work. I never expected a handout, but I did expect a good pension.
After jumping in and out of that brown truck for hundreds of times a day over the years, I actually was in much pain when I retired, and I deserve a good pension because it was negotiated for me by the Teamsters union. It was part of my pay, part of my vacation pay I sacrificed. And we were denied that.
What kept me going was knowing that at the end of my time I was going to get a pension that was going to allow me to live comfortably in my retirement. After all, I gave up wages and vacation pay so I could get this monthly pension. That was a promise, a contract, something that I was told could not be broken.
We feel betrayed and angry that at the end of 2014 Congress passed a Multiemployer Pension Reform Act allowing retirees' and widows' pensions to be cut in order to balance the books of multiemployer pension plans. That is just plain wrong.
Unless the pension cuts allowed by MPRA are repealed, I and others will end up on public assistance. Because of my pension I am able to support my extended family the way I should. But believe me, there are a lot of folks who have it much worse than me. For instance, widows who are living on half of their husband's pensions, and end up losing their homes, if not living on the streets.
Every person out there today wearing a tee shirt or a button has a story to tell. And I hope you'll take the time to talk to them. We are regular, hardworking people. We all lived and believed in the American dream. We don't ask for anything. We worked for everything we have.
AUDIENCE: That's right.
BRYANT: We ask Congress today to pass the Keep Our Pension Promises Act. We are a rich country and a good country, and we have faith that thanks to Senator Sanders, Reps. Kaptur and Ryan and the other cosponsors ,that our government will protect us.
Thank you. [cheers and applause]
UNKNOWN: Way to go, Frank. [applause]
SANDERS: Thank you very much, Frank.
I think the bottom line is pretty simple. And it's been stated by every speaker. This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. The Republicans just passed a budget which would provide over 10 years over $200 billion in tax breaks to the top two-tenths of 1 percent.
SANDERS: If the Republicans and members of Congress can provide huge tax breaks for billionaires, the very least that we can do...
UNKNOWN: All right now.
SANDERS: ... is to keep our promises made to people...
UNKNOWN: All right now.
UNKNOWN: Yes, sir. [cheers and applause]
SANDERS: ... who worked and earned these pensions. [cheers and applause]
So thank you all very, very much for being here today. This is a fight. You're fighting not just for yourselves. Because if this promise is broken to you, it can be broken for every American worker, every American worker. [cheers and applause]
UNKNOWN: All right, Bernie Sanders.
SANDERS: All right. Well, thank you all very much.
AUDIENCE: Bernie. Bernie. Bernie.
QUESTION: [inaudible] about the workers in terms of tax cuts for billionaires bailouts to Wall Street. It seems to be resonating for you around the country.
SANDERS: I don't want to make this into a political issue.
QUESTION: Well you don't have to have politics. But were you surprised by the reaction of people to that kind of message?
SANDERS: What I am increasingly understanding is that people all over this country understand that we have an economic system today that is rigged.
SANDERS: It's a rigged system. These people have worked their entire lives. Promises have been made to them.
They gave up on wage benefits in order to have a secure, decent retirement. And the rug has been pulled out from underneath them. And that is happening. That is happening in many ways to working people all over this country.
And what we are seeing is an outrageous level of income and wealth inequality. People on top doing phenomenally well, while the middle class is disappearing. That is what this is about. And we say loudly and clearly, that's not what America's about. Enough is enough. [cheers and applause]
All right. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: [cheering] Way to go. Thank you. Nice job.
SANDERS: Thank you very much.
UNKNOWN: Thank you. You're a wonderful speaker... [crosstalk]
Bernie Sanders, News Conference by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Marcy Kaptur on Legislation to Restore Pension Guarantees for Thousands of Retired Union Workers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/323478