January 24, 2011: Wall Street greed and the corporate attack on unions has triggered a crisis in our pensions.
Teamster officials didn’t cause this crisis. But they have a responsibility to put forward a plan to address this problem and defend our pensions.
A survey of 18 Teamster multi-employer pension funds, including all of the largest funds and several smaller funds in the East, reveals that all but one are in either “critical” or “endangered” status.
Most funds are in the so-called “red zone” of critical status, including a number of funds managed by Hoffa’s running mates for the General Executive Board.
Teamster leaders are not responsible for the pension crisis, which was triggered by Wall Street greed, the financial collapse, and the corporate attack on unions.
But they do have a responsibility to put forward a plan to address the problem, defend Teamster pensions, and build Teamster power. Our pension funds are an integral part of our union’s strength and our ability to organize and grow.
On that score, we have seen very little from the Hoffa administration.
Hoffa’s Team in the Red Zone
Some of the pension funds surveyed include the New Jersey Local 469 fund, which is in critical status. The Chicago Local 727 fund is 70 percent funded. The Philadelphia Area Fund is in seriously endangered status, with 64 percent funding. The Cleveland Local 507 fund, and the New York Local 210 fund are in critical status. The New England Teamsters Pension Fund, the union’s third largest, is 59 percent funded and in critical status.
Of the 18 funds surveyed, most are in the red zone, including statewide plans in the East such as the Virginia and Upstate New York plans. Four are in endangered status (yellow zone), including the Chicago Local 705 Fund, the Chicago Local 710 Fund and the Central Pennsylvania Fund.
The problem is widespread. No one should blame the individual Teamster officers and International vice presidents associated with those funds for the funds being in trouble: the goal should be a Teamster plan to deal with the overall problem.
The most troubled fund of all is the big Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Fund, covering 25 states. It is 58 percent funded, in critical status, and its director, Thomas Nyhan, told a Congressional hearing last year that it will be insolvent in 10-15 years without help. That situation cries out for a plan from the International leaders, who are busy dodging the issue.
The Failure to Protect Teamster Power
Our flagship fund in serious danger? Pension cuts spreading? How did that happen?
First off, James Hoffa and Ken Hall cut a deal with UPS in 2007 to give away the Central States Fund, to give UPS control of the pensions. We struck in 1997 to stop UPS’s pension grab, which killed it for a decade. Then Hoffa and Hall gave it away without so much as a skirmish, let alone a fight.
Second, the failure to organize and protect Teamster power in trucking led to the decline of major contributors to Central States and many other pension funds. Today YRCW, which has been the largest contributor to many plans, contributes zero. In June it is supposed to resume contributions, but at a mini-level of $1.75 per hour. And UPS Freight contributes zero, because a deal was cut to let them off the hook altogether.This is the fruit of a failure to protect Teamster power in trucking and in other Teamster core industries. Hoffa’s freight division leaders’ only plan is to dodge the issues, sell concessions, and blame someone else.
If YRC doesn’t recover, we could see major pension fund failures, especially in plans such as New York Local 707, New Jersey Local 641, the Baltimore fund, and others which are already in the red zone.
One fund is not endangered. The Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Fund is in the green zone, with 89 percent funding. Why is that?
First off, this fund has maintained a broad funding base of employers. Instead of letting too many employers off the hook, the fund includes the majority of Teamsters in the Western states.
Second, unlike Central States, UPS remains a participant. And UPS part-timers are also participants in the fund as well, an ideal demographic group for a pension fund. Only the Upstate New York and New England funds include UPS part-timers outside the west.
The Western Conference plan has, however, imposed steep cuts in benefits which hurt those retiring in the short run. Like too many of our funds, the employers have 50 percent of the votes on the board but seem to have majority control.
Needed: A Plan of Action
The pension crisis is real. It is the job of the International Union leadership to put forward a plan of action to defend pensions. It starts with rebuilding Teamster power, strategic organizing, and helping locals bargain to protect pensions.
No more corporations should be allowed to exit a Teamster plan without a fight backed by the power of the Teamsters Union. The days of slipping out the back door must end.
The International Union needs to draw Teamster members, retirees and community allies into this fight. Spreading a little Teamster money around Washington has yielded no results. It’s time to turn up the heat and tap real Teamster power to protect our members and retirees.