On February 27 the House of Representatives passed a bill to provide relief to endangered multi-employer pension plans. The same measure was included in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief measure passed in the Senate on March 5. Since the total relief measure passed in the Senate was different then the one passed in the House, the measure had to go back to the lower chamber for a vote, where it passed by 10 votes, 220-210. It is regrettable to note that one of the differences between the original bills was the enactment of an increase in the minimum wage in steps to $15 an hour by 2024. Unfortunately the Senate did not have enough support for the minimum wage part of the COVID-19 relief bill so it was removed in order for the rest of the act to become law. After the House passed the same relief bill the Senate passed, President Joe Biden signed it into law on Thursday, March 11, hours before he was to deliver an address to the nation.
The pension reform piece of the COVID-19 bill provides relief for plans in which many OPEIU members participate, including the OPEIU Western States Plan, the Local 153 Pension Plan and other multi-employer plans. It beneficially affects the lives of OPEIU members and retirees throughout the United States.
OPEIU members have been eagerly waiting for this legislation. In his union leadership capacity OPEIU President Richard Lanigan worked diligently in personally lobbying members of Congress to enact this measure. In addition, as a member of the AFL-CIO Retirement Committee he worked directly with other unions for nearly two years to win this reform and secure our members' pensions.
As we have mentioned in the White Collar, on Local 153’s website and in social media, hundreds of thousands of union members across the country found that they were participating in pension plans that were stretched to the limit after the 2008 recession, and that many of these plans were less than 10 years from insolvency. Obviously, this condition has only worsened during the pandemic. In the past the Senate would not consider pension relief and instead provided tax breaks to wealthy people and corporations. As one example, the airline industry used its TARP money for stock buybacks.
“From our standpoint this a huge step toward bringing the country out of the pandemic recession,” President Lanigan said after the bill was signed into law. “Now, pension relief is here and our members’ pensions are fully secure.”