Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Pension battle not won, Teamsters told

Teamster retirees have won the first round in a fight over their struggling pension fund, but the battle is far from over. 

That was the message nearly 200 Quad-City Teamsters — retirees, dependents and active members — heard Saturday a Quad-Cities Committee to Protect Pensions meeting held at their Rock Island union hall.

"We would not be sitting here if our pension were whole,'' Jim Tol, a member of the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Committee to Protect Pensions, told the packed union hall. "It's not been going good since 2003. We've been in critical since 2003."

Tol, a Teamsters committee person and retiree, said the retirees scored a victory earlier this month when the U.S. Treasury Department rejected an application by Central States Pension Fund that would have cut pension payments for tens of thousands of Teamsters retirees.

Under Central States' plan, 270,000 of the 400,000 plan participants would have seen cuts — some as much as 70 percent. Central States had said the average cut would be about 22 percent. Had it been approved, the cuts would have begun in July.

While those proposed cuts are off the table, Tol warned the fact remains that the pension fund is going broke and could run out of money in about 10 years. "We have time now and we can plan. It's not going to go broke in a day."

Central States has said for every $1 it receives in revenues, it pays out $3.46 in benefits. At the current rate, the plan could go into insolvency by 2026.

Ruth Finch, who retired after 34 years at Eagle Foods warehouse when the company closed, said she received a letter indicating her pension would be cut from $892 a month to $192 a month. While she seems safe those cuts aren't materializing, she is worried about how long the fund will exist. "We all need to stick together; they need to hear our voices,'' the 66-year-old Port Byron woman said.

Pam Allensworth, of Silvis, said her husband, Dale, a retired Eagle Foods truck driver, had faced a 33 percent cut in benefits if the plan had been approved. "With us it was a double whammy. He retired and I had to shut down a trucking company. We had a master plan that went to hell when Eagle shut down."

She said the prospect of the fund going broke could mean she will have to return to the workforce.

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