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IATSE rejects Grassley-Alexander multiemployer pension proposal, urges Senate action on Butch Lewis Act

Friday, January 10, 2020

Today, Matthew D. Loeb, International President, IATSE sent a letter expressing grave concern with the Grassley-Alexander Multiemployer Pension Recapitalization and Reform Plan and explicitly rejecting its implementation. The letter also urges Senate action on the bipartisan, House-passed Butch Lewis Act, a viable and constructive solution to the looming crisis of failed multiemployer pension plans.

These comments are addressed to Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and copied to the U.S. Senators serving on those committees.

His comments are as follows:

Thank you for your attention to the important issues faced by the multiemployer pension system. We write on behalf of the approximately 125,000 American members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (“IATSE”) to express our grave concerns with the Grassley-Alexander Multiemployer Pension Recapitalization and Reform Plan (“the proposal”) and explicitly reject its implementation. Many of the proposed changes would significantly weaken our financially-sound Pension Plans and harm our ability to provide promised retirement benefits to our members.

The proposal would not only injure the retirees and active participants it purports to help, but it would also precipitate the collapse of the multiemployer pension system by shifting the burden to healthy multiemployer plans and their stakeholders via increased premiums, lowering of the discount rate, and a disgraceful new tax on existing retirees.

Any multiemployer pension legislation should, at a minimum, do no harm. This proposal fails that basic test. Instead, it is punitive in nature, imposing hefty new costs that even healthy plans – like the IATSE National Pension Plan and Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan – will be unable to survive. Our healthy plans, which are capable of meeting all their current obligations would be forced to implement harsh and otherwise unnecessary decreases in benefit accruals and/or exorbitant increases in employer contributions. This will ultimately limit the ability of our plans to attract and retain employers, eroding the contribution base of these plans and ultimately the security of retirement benefits in the future.

After a lifetime of hard work, working people deserve to retire with dignity. The IATSE is proud of our negotiated multiemployer pension plans, which have provided retirement income security for hundreds of thousands of behind the scenes craftspeople for decades.

In this proposal, Senators Grassley and Alexander have crafted a tax increase that hits hardest those who do not bear responsibility for the financial challenges faced by troubled multiemployer pension plans. Working people did not cause this crisis and we should not be penalized because of it.

We appreciate that this is a complex issue with no easy solutions. We support the goal of addressing pension reform. However, we believe that reform must carefully consider the long-term health of multiemployer pension plans. We urge your Committees to avoid making sweeping changes to the funding rules and imposing exorbitant new premiums that would put stable, healthy plans in jeopardy. The IATSE has endorsed a House-passed, bipartisan bill without these fatal flaws – the Butch Lewis Act (H.R. 397/S. 2254) – which we urge the Senate to consider. It is imperative that the Senate moves quickly on a solution that is viable and constructive—legislation that will provide retirees with their hard-earned benefits and stabilize the multiemployer pension system overall.

The full letter can be found here.