Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Jul 25 2018

At Pension Hearing, Heitkamp Urges Joint Committee to Listen to Stories of ND Workers & Retirees Impacted by Multiemployer Pension Crisis, Pass the Butch Lewis Act

Heitkamp Held a Facebook Livestream Following the Hearing where Workers & Retirees Shared their Stories about how Pension Crisis is Affecting them; Senators Joined to Call for Action

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today participated in the fifth hearing of the 16-person bipartisan, House and Senate Joint Select Committee tasked with solving the crisis facing multiemployer pension plans across the country, including threatening more than 2,000 North Dakotans who paid into the Central States Pension Fund. Today’s hearing focused on how the multiemployer pension plan crisis impacts stakeholders, including North Dakota workers, retirees, and their families.

During the hearing, Heitkamp shared the story of George Ganje, a retired SuperValu employee from Riverdale, who could see severe cuts to his retirement savings and experience unexpected financial hardship— by no fault of his own— even after paying into a pension for decades. Heitkamp also stressed the need for Congress to work to find a legislative fix to the growing pension problem, such as through her Butch Lewis Act— which she helped write and introduce last November.

Following the hearing, Heitkamp hosted a video livestream on Facebook featuring workers, retirees, and their representatives in Congress sharing stories about how the nationwide pension crisis is impacting them. Click here to watch the full stream.

“The story I shared today is from one of the thousands of North Dakota retirees and family members who could face financial catastrophe if they lose their hard-earned pensions. And Congress— including this Committee— has yet to take any meaningful action that protects retirement security so that hardworking men and women have long-term peace of mind,” said Heitkamp. “For years, folks like George were willing to work long hours in often-physically demanding jobs, knowing that it was worth it because they had the promise of economic security during their retirements. But now, they’re being stiffed. We have an obligation to listen to their stories and spread awareness among the public, so we can reinforce why we need strong Congressional action to fix this massive mess. Somehow, the government managed to bail out Wall Street when times were tough, but now it is completely balking at our commitment to look out for laborers across this country. These workers truly deserve every ounce of help we can give them—and I’ll keep fighting for my Butch Lewis Act to be part of the solution.”

“I worked for SuperValu for 35 years, and the majority of my working hours were in the middle of the night. I was unable to attend my children’s school programs, because I was working hard to provide for my family. There were so many things I missed out on, because of my commitment to SuperValu and because I knew I would have a pension,” said George Ganje, retired SuperValu employee, Riverdale. “But now, they want to take away the one thing I have—my pension. That’s not fair. This possibility has caused many sleepless nights, a boatload of frustration, and too much worry for my family. I’m too darn old to go back to work full time.”

Heitkamp is also encouraging all those impacted by the crisis to send their feedback to a new inbox created by the committee, which is gathering input about current challenges related to the crisis as the Committee works to craft a legislative solution to the pension problem by the end of the year. Workers, retirees, and businesses can send their suggestions and ideas via email to JSCSMPP@finance.senate.gov until September 30, 2018.

“I worked as a UPS driver in North Dakota for 30 years, after being told that the company offered the best retirement in the country. At the time, I thought that was the best decision I could make for me and my wife as we looked to build our long-term retirement security. But now, that peace of mind for our golden years could disappear completely,” said Wayne Odegaard, retired UPS Driver, Rugby. “As someone who is now getting older, I’ve had a few health issues, including arthritis and three stents after a heart attack. These medical expenses add up, and uncertainty about my pension increases our financial stress and mental stress tremendously. I didn’t expect to find ourselves in this positon, because we tried to do the responsible thing decades ago by putting money into a pension. I agree with Senator Heitkamp that we need to make sure voices like mine are heard in Congress, and she’s someone who has consistently fought for us while others stayed silent. I hope the rest of Congress will take a play from her playbook and work to restore the retirement savings of workers like me.”

“For 39 years, I paid into my pension and worked to save for my retirement. But soon, all of that savings could vanish. And I’m not the only one— thousands of us in North Dakota who worked to make an honest living could lose our hard-earned pensions,” said Al Thomas, retired freight driver, Bismarck. “Many of my friends have had numerous back surgeries and faced other health challenges due to the physical toll of our line of work, and they don’t know how they’ll take care of their spouses and families if they experience additional cuts. Amid serious health concerns, who can honestly take a 50 percent cut to their retirement and feel secure? It’s not fair, but Senator Heitkamp knows that. She has stood with us throughout her time in the Senate, and I’m proud to stand with her as she fights back against harsh pension cuts and works toward a legislative fix.”

In May 2018, Heitkamp spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate to share the stories of North Dakotans—like these retirees— who are negatively impacted by the multiemployer pension crisis. Click here to watch the full video of Heitkamp’s speech.

In November 2017, Heitkamp announced the Butch Lewis Act during a rally in Bismarck with over 100 workers, retirees, and their families. The Select Committee will provide a process for Congress to consider Heitkamp’s bill and work toward a bipartisan solution that can solve the pension crisis.

The Butch Lewis Act would:

  • Provide financing to put failing pension plans back on solid ground to ensure they can meet their commitments to retirees today and workers for decades to come.
  • Prevent a single dollar of cuts to benefits retirees have earned.
  • Put safeguards in place so pension plans remain strong so they will be there for today's workers when they retire

Specifically, the bill would allow the Treasury Department to loan money, leveraged by safe investments, to pension plans to ensure that retirees and their families are guaranteed their promised benefits.

Additionally, Heitkamp and U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), another member of the Joint Select Committee, joined about 120 workers and retirees in Fargo in May to provide an update on the work of the Committee to address the issues facing multiemployer pension plans.

Background

For years, Heitkamp has stood with North Dakota’s workers and retirees and fought to safeguard their retirement savings, and she has specifically fought to protect those who are part of the Central States Pension Fund from harsh cuts. Heitkamp spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2016 to push the U.S. Treasury Department to reject the proposed harsh cuts, and joined retirees and workers at a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. in 2016 to push back against cuts.

In 2016, those workers and retirees faced pension cuts of up to 60 percent under a plan to restructure the multiemployer pension plan, which is no longer solvent. After pressure from Heitkamp and workers across the country, Kenneth Feinberg— the then-Treasury official overseeing the restructuring of the pension plan— announced that the U.S. Department of the Treasury rejected the proposed cuts, saying they were unfair for workers and retirees who would be impacted.

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Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov