A Question and Answer Session with Mike Mathis, Director of Government AffairsQ: What is Congress doing to address the problems facing multi-employer pensions?
A: On June 9, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) introduced a pension bill in the House. The bill, H.R. 2830, is comprehensive pension legislation that addresses the funding problems facing both single- and multi-employer pensions. Congressman Boehner is the Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, which deals with private pension issues for the House of Representatives.
Q: Does the Teamsters Union support this legislation?
A: The Teamsters Union did not endorse this bill as introduced. The bill represents a positive step because Congress finally appears to be willing to address problems faced by multi-employer pension plans. However, the bill that was introduced falls short of the protections and the relief we are seeking for multi-employer plans. But we are at the beginning of a long legislative process with multiple opportunities to make changes to the bill.
Q: Who are the Teamsters working with to get positive legislation passed?
A: The Teamsters are part of a broad-based coalition of more than 50 unions, employers and associations that are members of the Multi-employer Pension Plan Coalition (MPPC). The Coalition’s members are involved in a range of industries, from construction and trucking to the grocery and entertainment industries.
Q: You mentioned a long legislative process. What is the process and how does legislation get enacted?
A: Typically, a committee with oversight of an issue will start by holding a public hearing. Then, a subcommittee usually will debate and vote on a bill. If the bill passes, it gets sent to the full committee for consideration. The committee then will debate and vote on the bill before it can go to the House or Senate floor for full debate and a vote. Sometimes, a bill will go to several committees for consideration before it gets to the full House or Senate. At each level, a bill can be changed—or amended. Both the House and the Senate must pass the bill before it is sent to the president to be signed into law or vetoed. Often, the House and Senate pass different bills, and a committee must be appointed for the two sides to work out their differences.
Q: What is the status of H.R. 2830?
A: A subcommittee of the House Education and Workforce Committee amended and voted on the bill on June 22. The full committee then amended the bill again and passed it on June 30. The bill will now be sent to the House Ways and Means Committee for consideration. This committee has jurisdiction over some tax issues in the bill, as well as some pension provisions. When Ways and Means passes the bill, it will go to the Rules Committee and then to the full House for consideration.
Q: What is the status of pension legislation in the Senate?
A: The Senate Finance Committee considered and voted on a pension bill just prior to the August recess. As with the House, jurisdiction over pension legislation is shared with another committee, in this case the Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The HELP committee plans to move forward on pension legislation after the August recess. We, and our coalition partners, have been meeting with House and Senate committee members and staff, both Republicans and Democrats, to push for strong multi-employer pension provisions.
Q: Can this legislation be fixed so that we can support it?
A: We believe it can, and there are several opportunities to make changes. We are working hard, along with our coalition partners, to educate and persuade members of Congress, particularly committee members, to adopt the changes we believe are important to maintaining viable multi-employer plans and protecting core pension benefits. The committee level is where we have the first opportunities to impact the bill.
Q: What happens if Congress does not complete action on pension legislation this year?
A: This is the first year of a new, two-year congressional session. If Congress does not complete action on a bill this year, it would pick up next year where it left off in the process. However, we expect Congress to act this year to produce a good bill that protects core benefits and ensures viable multi-employer pension plans in the future.
Q: What happens if the legislation is bad?
A: At some point near the end of the legislative process, the Teamsters Union may determine that the pension bill will actually harm multi-employer pension plans and the 750,000 Teamsters who participate in them. If that’s the case, General President Hoffa has committed every available resource to ensuring that we defeat that bill and begin to work again at promoting our proposal in a different piece of legislation.