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This Week's Buzz: The 'Iceberg' facing Retirees; DC Women Workers Rally!

March 3, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco

The Teamsters join Neal and Bill.

New York, NY - There’s a huge iceberg waiting for American workers heading into retirement without a defined pension plan — and on Sunday night’s 9 o’clock episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” on AM970 The Answer, we’ll be talking all about it with both Kevin McCaffrey, president, Teamsters Local 707, and Dan Kane, Jr., president, Teamsters Local 202. We’ll also be talking about the upcoming Women Workers rally in Washington, D.C. on March 8, with Saru Jayaraman, co-director, ROC-United. 

On February 1, Teamsters Local 707’s pension fund became insolvent, requiring a financial lifeline from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. But McCaffrey warns that the “broken system” that directly contributed to the insolvency epitomizes an “epidemic” threatening multi-employer pension funds nationwide. 

“When these funds start to go south, there is nobody that is going to want to get into these plans,” McCaffrey says. “The liability gets shifted to good employers, and you don’t want to be the last man standing.”

Back in 2000, McCaffrey’s local had some 2,400 active contributors and about 2,700 retirees. Today that number has transformed into 750 active contributors and 3,000 retirees. 

“It’s a broken system,” McCaffey says. “You cant’ continue to pay out the benefits that you do, when you can see that you have a decline in the membership. You end up getting to the point when you’re in free-fall - and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

According to McCaffrey, it’s time for government  to help rescue worker pensions the same way it bailed out the big banks and the automotive industry. 

“There are some creative ideas out there that need to be acted upon,” McCaffrey says. “We bailed out the banks, we bailed out the auto companies. We need to be able to bail out these pension funds which are in trouble because of no fault of their own.”

The produce industry centered at Hunts Point in the Bronx is vibrant, and membership in Teamsters Local 202 is strong. Kane, nevertheless, remains vigilant employee pensions. 

“Most workers between the ages of 50 to 55 have less than $14,000 saved for retirement,” Kane says. “There’s a retirement crisis coming in this country and we’re not keeping an eye on it.”

That wasn’t always the case, of course. Kane calls the national freight contract in the 1960s “a model for trade unionism and middle class values,” 

ROC-United leader Saru Jayaraman.

“It was a marvel. People got better pensions and it grew the American middle class — there’s no doubt that was true,” Kane adds. “And that system has been attacked from many angles. From legislation to propaganda to deregulating industries that were once good paying jobs.”

Working women from around the country will converge on the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. on March 8, to pressure the Trump administration to protect good paying jobs once again. 

“Our concern is that this administrate doesn't seem to be committed to any kind of minimum wage increase. And so, it leaves tipped workers at $2.13 per hour for another four years, and that’s really unacceptable to us,” Jayaraman says. “We need to call for one fair wage — raise the minimum wage for everybody and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.”

Despite Trump’s continued support for so-called “Right-to-Work” legislation and other anti-worker initiatives, the ROC-United leader believes that working men and women can fight back and win. 

“I think our collective efforts resulted in [Andy] Puzder withdrawing his nomination. So, it’s clear we can have an impact as workers,” Jayaraman says. 

LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” airs every Sunday night on AM970 The Answer from 9 to 10 p.m. This week’s episode, as well as every other episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” is also available on demand at www.am970theanswer.com.

 

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