Commentary: Save our retirements!

How many people in the Hudson Valley know that some of their hardest-working neighbors could have their retirement benefits ripped away? It’s true, and there’s no end in sight to the growing problem.

On Oct. 1, 2017, one of the most significant pension events to ever happen in America occurred right here in New York State. That day, more than 34,000 Teamster households in the Empire State saw our current and future pension checks reduced up to 42 percent. The problem: our pension plan is running out of money to pay benefits. Under a recently enacted law, The Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA), pension plans projected to run out of money within 15 to 20 years may suspend benefits to its participants.

That’s exactly what they did — and they cut many to the bone.

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I’ve been employed by United Parcel Service (UPS) for nearly 29 years, and during those years, workers like myself chose to have a portion of our take-home pay contributed into a multiemployer pension plan (MEPP). We all assumed this money would be safe, and our retirement years secure. Unfortunately, many employers that were once contributing to our fund are no longer in business. This has left the remaining employers and workers to shoulder the unfunded retiree and employee obligations for the entire plan.

Our retirement system, based on pooling of risk, was supposed to benefit both the employers and the employees. Unfortunately, this no longer is the case.

Making matters even worse, the federal agency which backstops and insures distressed pension plans like ours, The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, is also projected to run out of money within 10 years. More than 100 MEPPs like ours, with over one million participants, are also projected to run out of money within the next 10 to 20 years. If action isn’t taken soon to fully fund the PBGC and our pension plans, millions of American families like mine could eventually lose all their retirement income.

The dire situation we now face is no fault of our own; in good faith, we all played by the rules. Here in the Capital District and the across the region, many families like mine simply cannot afford to take benefit reductions this large. A coalition of workers, retirees and employers across American is calling upon Congress and the president to take action to ensure that American workers and their families’ earned retirement benefits are protected. Protect Our Workers’ Earned Retirement! (POWER) is an organization that anyone who believes in fairness and keeping promises can join to become part of the solution. Please visit us at www.powrnow.net to learn more about our organization and what can be done to accomplish an outcome that American workers have earned.

We’re urging Congress — especially New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand — to help us find a solution soon to save our pensions. If you agree, please check our website and call the Senators’ offices now at (202) 224-3121.

Mark Greene has worked for 29 years for United Parcel Service and lives in Kingston.

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