July 18, 2017 3:15 PM, EDT
Washington Tunes Into Fixes for Teamsters’ Failing Central States Pension
Teamsters rally at Capitol Susan Melkisethian/Flickr

A short meeting with the nation’s Treasury Secretary couldn’t fix the failing Central States Pension Fund, but it did fix attention on possible solutions.

Secretary Steven Mnuchin met last week with 25 Teamsters retirees from groups in 15 states. They included Tom Schwarzenberger, who said the focus on possible solutions to the pension’s funding shortfall marked something of a milestone.

Teamsters retirees last year made a concerted bid to prevent dramatic cuts to current retirees’ checks. Since then, they’ve taken many trips to Washington to get lawmakers and others to recognize their plight. Discussions now are about finding solutions.

“What we’ve accomplished in a year is incredible,” said Schwarzenberger, a member of the Missouri-Kansas City Committee to Protect Pensions. “Now, we’re known on Capitol Hill. It’s been a huge accomplishment.”

Central States has told its 400,000 members, more than half of whom already collect retirement checks, that it expects to run out of money within a decade. Central States is the largest of many multiemployer pensions that are in critical and declining financial condition.

Schwarzenberger had expected to have three minutes to tell Mnuchin about a 19-page proposal aimed at generating revenue for the Central States fund, but he and others were cut back to one minute each.

Still, he said, the meeting went well as at least four possible fixes were discussed. He said Mnuchin told the group that the Treasury will act as a “facilitator” in resolving the pension’s problems and that any path to an answer must involve Congress.

Last year, Kenneth Feinberg, a special master working for the Treasury, rejected a Central States proposal that would have cut many current retirees’ checks, some by more than half.

Mnuchin had promised in January to meet with retirees when Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill pressed for a session during Senate confirmation hearings.

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