November 16, 2015
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
The 300 members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 836 who drive city buses in Grand Rapids, Michigan, continue to fight to keep their pensions from being converted to a 457 defined-contribution plan, the public-sector version of a 401(k).
The proposed cuts are “driven more by political ideology than fiscal responsibility,” said Local 836 President Richard Jackson, a bus driver for the “Rapid” for 16 years. The union says the current plan is 80.4% percent funded, well above the 70% usually considered adequate. The drivers have won support from presidential candidate Sen. Bernard Sanders, and have substituted an inflatable camel for the traditional inflatable rat—they use it to picket Interurban Transit Partnership CEO Peter “The Hump” Varga’s office with signs reading “Dump the Hump.” Defined-contribution plans, the union says, are “a move backward to a time when individual employees assumed all financial risk and the employers they devoted their lives to were let off the hook.”