Sunday, February 28, 2016

Why the coming cuts to Teamster pensions deserve more national news coverage

By Trudy Lieberman

In October 2015, when word came down that hundreds of thousands of current and future Teamster retirees were facing the loss of a portion of their pension benefits—in some cases, more than half of the monthly payment—Jim Gallagher, a business columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, did what good journalists do. He started asking questions, understanding context, and crafting a cohesive narrative about a crisis that will ultimately reach far beyond the households of union truck drivers. The result was a strong early piece about a story that has drawn increasing attention from local media, but deserves a much bigger spot on the national news agenda.

Historically, it was illegal for pension plans to cut core benefits to people who are already retired; if the plan had money in the bank, it had to pay promised benefits. But many so-called “multi-employer” plans, which serve workers from multiple companies in a particular industry, have been falling into financial distress for years. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is supposed to backstop failing private pensions, but the guarantees are lower for multi-employer plans, and the PBGC itself is in trouble.

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