As the only Teamster running for president in 2020, I was disappointed, though not surprised, that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) did not invite me to their December 7 presidential candidates forum in Iowa.

Like all Teamsters, however, I was invited to send submit a question by video. So I did.

As one of hundreds of thousands of Teamsters whose pensions have been cut, I told the presidential candidates that I was so mad about it I was seeking the Green Party nomination for president. But I wanted know what these candidates were going to do about it.

My pension was cut 19% because the Multi-Employer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) overturned the federal protection of our earned pension benefits that used to be provided for in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. That attack on our pensions was voted for by both parties in the dead of night in December 2014 as an add-on to a must-pass omnibus spending bill. Neither party, under both the Obama and Trump administrations, has done anything since to protect our earned pension benefits.

A greater than a two-to-one majority of us beneficiaries in the New York State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund voted against the Treasury Department’s approval of our pension cuts. But the Multi-Employer Pension Reform Act requires a majority of plan participants, not just those who vote, to vote the cuts down to stop them. So existing retirees were cut 29% and future retirees like me were cut 19%. I worked an extra year over 65 in order to save 10% from my cuts.

To answer my own question to the presidential candidates, here is what I advocate:

1. Appoint a Treasury Secretary Who Will Stop Approving Pension Cuts.

2. Repeal the Multi-Employer Pension Reform Act to restore protection of our pensions under ERISA.

3. Enact the Keep Our Pension Promises Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Senate and Rep. Marcy Kaptur in the House in 2015. It would close two tax loopholes that benefit only the very rich and use the revenues to shore up the assets of pension plans that are in trouble and to pay beneficiaries the full benefits they have earned.

4. Double Social Security Benefits. By removing the tax cap on high income earners and some other progressive tax reforms, we can double the benefits our public pension system provides to ensure a secure retirement for all.

The current generation entering retirement, the so-called Baby Boomers, are in the midst of a retirement crisis. Wages have been stagnant throughout most or all of their working lives, since the early 1970s, while the costs of housing, health care, and college have increased well beyond the rate of inflation. The result is many Baby Boomers have no retirement savings and are in debt. One-third still owe home mortgages. 2.8 million still have college loan debt.

The Teamsters union tops around Jimmy Hoffa Jr. support the Butch Lewis Act (named for the late Teamster pension activist) in the Senate and its companion Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act in the House. The government would sell bonds to finance loans to the pension funds in trouble. During the first 29 years of the 30-year loans, the pension plans will pay only fixed interest rates on the money they’ve borrowed. In the last year, the pension plans will pay make a ballon payment to pay off the principal. If they can’t, the loans might be refinanced, partially forgiven, and/or paid off by the federal government.

The Butch Lewis Act passed in the House earlier this year and went to die in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. It would not restore the pensions of those of us who had our pensions cut like the Keep Our Pension Promises Act would. It would help keep our pension funds alive to pay our reduced benefits, which is better than our funds running out of money to pay the benefits we still have. The Keep Our Pension Promises Act would fund pension restoration by taxing the rich. The Butch Lewis Act would funds pension stabilization by making the rich richer by selling them bonds on Wall Street.

I will be watching with interest to see what the six Democrats attending the Teamsters presidential forum have to say about pension reform. I would be surprised if my video question is used. I will not be surprised if any of the Democrats — with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders — say how they will work to get my earned pension benefits restored.
What I do know is that working people will not get what they deserve from the government as long as the unions are attached to — and taken for granted by — the Democrats. As Tony Mazzochi, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union leader who spearheaded the drive in the 1990s for an independent labor party, often said, “The bosses have two parties. We need one of our own.”

Howie Hawkins 2020

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