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Retirees rally for bill to save pensions

By Staff | Dec 1, 2017

BISMARCK – Former UPS driver Wayne Odegaard of Rugby spent 30 years making deliveries in the familiar brown truck. The wear and tear on his body had consequences, and now the looming loss of his pension has added new worries in his retirement years.

“We knew our retirement income would be modest but we would be able to make ends meet,” said Odegaard, 72, who retired in 2007. “I worked long, hard hours and I counted on my pension in retirement.”

Odegaard, spoke in a Bismarck Teamsters union hall Tuesday at a rally attended by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, and more than 100 workers and retirees from around the state who are impacted by pension cuts from the Central States Pension Fund. The fund is a multi-employer pension that covers a range of fields, including thousands of North Dakota workers and retirees in the trucking, UPS package delivery and grocery supply industries. About 2,000 retired North Dakotans and 40,000 retired workers around the country receive payments from the fund.

Heitkamp helped write the Butch Lewis Act, which would allow the Treasury Department to loan money, leveraged by safe investments, to pension plans to ensure that retirees and their families are guaranteed their promised benefits.

“If we lose that pension, we will be forced to sell our home. We would end up having to rely on government assistance,” Odegaard said. “How I ever would find a job at my age with my health conditions, I don’t know. We need this bill to pass to secure our retirement for the rest of our years and to live with our dignity.”

If the Central States Teamsters Pension Plan and other pension plans are allowed to fail, taxpayers would be at risk of having to pay billions when the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, the government-sponsored insurance company for multi-employer pensions, reaches an exposure of $59 billion and is projected to become insolvent by 2025, according to information from Heitkamp’s office. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of backstopping the PBGC, should it fail, would be $101 billion over 20 years.

“These workers and retirees followed the rules and did everything right. They worked for years, if not decades, in jobs that took tolls on their bodies, saving for retirement the whole way and expecting those savings to be there for them. Now, through no fault of their own, the rug will be pulled out from under them,” Heitkamp said. “If Congress doesn’t act, the impacts on workers and families will be devastating. As a country, we must value work and keep our promises to workers and retirees. That’s what our bill would do.”

Heitkamp urged workers and retirees to lobby on behalf of the bill. She noted workers face 50 to 70 percent cuts to their pensions if Congress fails to arrive at a solution.

Schramm is the senior staff writer for the Minot Daily News.

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