Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Nov 21 2017

Heitkamp Announces Bill to Protect ND Pensions; Keep Promise to ND Workers & Retirees of Secure Retirement

Senator Joined by about 100 Teamsters from Across ND who Called for Congress to Pass Bill to Protect 2,000 North Dakota Families who have Paid into Central States Pension Plan

BISMARCK, N.D. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today joined more than 100 North Dakota Teamsters -- workers, retirees, and their families -- at the Bismarck Teamsters Union hall to announce a bill she helped write that would ensure the 2,000 North Dakotans and 400,000 retirees across the country that have paid into Central States Pension Plan can keep the pensions they earned.

Workers and retirees also shared personal stories to explain that if Congress doesn’t pass this bill, deep cuts to their hard-earned retirement savings would severely hurt them and their families.

The bill would put the pension plans back on solid footing so current workers, retirees, and employers have the security of knowing their pensions will be available for decades to come, without cuts. Heitkamp is pushing Congress to include the bill in any year end legislative priorities. 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 part of the Central States Pension Fund.

“These workers and retirees followed the rules and did everything right. They worked for years, if not decades, in jobs that took tolls on their bodies, saving for retirement the whole way and expecting those savings to be there for them. Now, through no fault of their own, the rug will be pulled out from under them,” said Heitkamp. “If Congress doesn’t act, the impacts on workers and families will be devastating. As a country, we must value work and keep our promises to workers and retirees. That’s what our bill would do, and I’m proud to have helped write it. Now Congress needs to pass our bill and avoid needlessly putting workers and retirees across the country in jeopardy. I refuse to allow that to happen on my watch.”

“My husband, Mike, worked as a UPS driver for 30 years. He worked hard and earned his pension. He also gave up a great deal to be able to do his job. He missed out on many of our kids’ basketball and soccer games because he worked so much,” said Donna Mattson from Fargo. “In 2013, he was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative disease that requires regular and expensive physical, speech, and occupational therapies, and I am his full-time caretaker. That pension that he put money into was supposed to be there to support our family after Mike’s decades of labor. Now, when we need it most, it could be ripped away. I don’t know how we would survive without it. It means so much to have an advocate like Senator Heitkamp fighting for us and helping introduce this bill. Congress needs to pass it now – most of us can’t afford to wait.”

“As workers, many of us Teamsters gave up decent wages and pay raises to be able to put money away into our pensions so we could save for retirement for ourselves and our families,” said Tony Goetzfried, a retired truck driver from Bismarck and former president of the joint council for North Dakota Teamsters. “If those pensions disappear, the workers, retirees, and their families relying on them will be left in the cold, and forced to seek heating and food assistance that they never imagined they would need because they worked hard and saved all of their lives. We can’t thank Senator Heitkamp enough for her work to fight for us and helping introduce this bill to make sure we aren’t left behind. We hope Congress quickly passes it.”

“This fight is about dignity and justice for workers and retirees who worked hard and played by the rules, only to have their hard earned pensions ripped away from them,” said Dennis Kooren, who was a UPS driver in Fargo for 30 years. “Because of my job, I’ve endured knee and shoulder surgeries due to the sheer volume and weight of the packages I carried, as did so many other workers and retirees here today. We knew our jobs could impact our health, but we thought we would have our pensions to help us as we retired. Now, those pensions are being ripped away and it’s just cruel. Senator Heitkamp has been our advocate for years and has been fighting by our side. It’s an honor to stand with her today as she announces this bill and we hope Congress passes it as soon as possible.”

“Before working as a UPS driver for 30 years, I was first a teacher and named Outstanding Educator of the Year. But UPS offered me twice the salary and, as they said, the best retirement in the country, so I took the job,” said Wayne Odegaard from Rugby. “In that job, I worked long hours, and kept working while others enjoyed Christmas vacation. Now the retirement security that I worked so hard for may disappear. It’s a constant stress on my wife and me, especially since I have arthritis, wear braces on both ankles, and have three stents after a recent heart attack which can be expensive to manage. We never imagined we would be in this position, especially when we purposely put money into my pension so we wouldn’t be. It isn’t fair or right. Senator Heitkamp has been fighting for us and making sure our voices are heard in Congress, and we hope Congress passes the bill she helped write as soon as possible. She understands how much we need the pensions we earned, and the rest of Congress should too.”

“During my 27 and a half years as a driver for UPS, there was a lot that I gave up so I could support my family” said Mark Rothschiller from Bismarck. “I missed many of my kids’ plays and sports games because I often worked late. Because of the intensive labor of my work, I’ve had five back surgeries and other rotator cuff surgeries which forced me to retire early. During retirement, I hoped to take my grandchildren to Disney World. Instead, if my pension is taken away, I suddenly don’t know how I’ll pay my health care bills. We earned these pensions over many years, and it isn’t right they could be taken away. Thanks to Senator Heitkamp, we have a fighting chance, and now we need others in Congress to step up and do what’s right – make sure we get the pensions we earned by supporting this bill.”

The Central States Pension Fund is a multiemployer fund that covers a range of fields, including thousands of North Dakota workers and retirees in the trucking, UPS package delivery, and grocery supply industries.

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. This new bill would put the pension plans back on solid footing, ensure they can meet their obligations to current retirees and workers for decades to come without cutting the benefits retirees earned, and safeguard them for the future.

If the Central States Teamsters Pension Plan and other pension plans are allowed to fail, not only will employers no longer be able to pay promised benefits, but taxpayers would be at risk of having to pay billions when the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), the government sponsored insurance company for multiemployer pensions, has an exposure of $59 billion and is projected to become insolvent by 2025. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of backstopping the PBGC, should it fail, would be $101 billion dollars over 20 years. Such a consequence reinforces why workers, retirees, families, and communities are at risk through no fault of their own and must be protected.

Background

Heitkamp has been working with the Teamsters and North Dakota workers and retirees who are participants in the Central States Pension Fund to press for options from Treasury and the fund that don’t include unfair and steep cuts to benefits. 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.

Last year, 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