People work hard for decades, making tough sacrifices for their jobs, compromising on family or leisure time – all for the promise that when they retire, the pension they earned will be there to provide for a comfortable life.
Increasingly, though, that promise is being broken, forcing workers to put off retirement and leaving retirees struggling to make ends meet. That’s not fair, and we must fight back.
Recently I walked into a meeting room in the back of a library Downriver, where dozens of retirees and union workers – members of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions – gathered to talk about the cuts to their pensions and what to do about it. Their stories were heartbreaking. Everyone had been touched by pension cuts, many devastating. One older gentleman said his pension had been cut by 72 percent and asked how he was supposed to survive on what was left. I could see the pain in his eyes and hear it in his voice.
The workers gathered there did have a glimmer of hope – H.R. 397, the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act (also known as the “Butch Lewis Act”), introduced by Rep. Richard Neal from Massachusetts’ 1st District. The bipartisan H.R. 397 establishes a new Pension Rehabilitation Administration to make loans to distressed and insolvent multiemployer pension plans in order to avoid cuts to retiree benefits. This would help the 1.3 million people in underfunded pension plans in danger of insolvency across the country. This July, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Act, which has now been introduced in the Senate.
The Butch Lewis Act is a positive step in the right direction. But it won’t solve everything. Without addressing the influence of money – and the greed of those who have the most of it – on our society, we will only be taking half measures.
That’s why I’m proud to be a co-sponsor of H.R. 3848, the House companion bill to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Stop Wall Street Looting Act (S.2155). The bill eliminates tax and other incentives that allow private equity firms to make huge profits at the expense of workers, pensioners and other stakeholders. Private equity firms on Wall Street have rigged our economic system so that they reap huge gains from risky investments but share in none of the losses, instead saddling workers, retirees, and investors with the fallout from their bad deals.
Workers and pensioners lose in so many ways while private equity firms keep winning. PE firms make obscene profits by buying, gutting and selling companies, with no regard for workers who can lose their jobs, back wages, pension benefits and severance pay.
Wall Street aggressively markets PE funds to institutional investors like pension funds with promises of lavish returns that they rarely deliver, leaving pension funds struggling with the insolvency the Butch Lewis Act is intended to help remedy. Amongst many critical reforms, the Stop Wall Street Looting Act clarifies that fund managers have a fiduciary duty to pension plans whose assets they manage, meaning they must act in the best interests of their retirees and keep their promise to their workers.
Our residents in the 13th Congressional District and retirees across our country deserve us to fight against corporate greed and these tax changes that subsidize the wealthy, leaving them behind.
We have a long fight ahead of us for economic justice in our country, to ensure that the resources of the richest country the world has ever known do not continue to flow exclusively to the top 1%. But we have concrete plans today that can start providing more stability and financial comfort to the millions of workers and pensioners who have put in their time and deserve to reap the benefits.
Congress must take action to turn the Butch Lewis Act and the Stop Wall Street Looting Act into law now.
Rashida Tlaib is the U.S. representative for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District.
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