Akron-area Teamster retirees suggest going ‘old school’ and occupying federal building to protest pending union pension cuts

Akron-area Teamster retirees suggest going ‘old school’ and occupying federal building to protest pending union pension cuts
By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
Published: February 3, 2016 - 08:10 PM | Updated: February 4, 2016 - 01:32 PM

There was genuine anger, frustration, protest and even revolution in the air Wednesday.
But this wasn’t a wide-eyed college student protest. The people venting — some loudly, some quietly — largely were all gray- and white-haired.
Some 200-plus retired Teamsters gathered for several hours at a Knights of Columbus Hall in Akron, fearful that their pensions will be sliced in half or more if Congress doesn’t act quickly. They listened to John Murphy, the Teamsters international vice president out of Boston, talk about a new federal pension law that allows pension payment cuts and what union members need to do to either get major changes made to the law or have it repealed.
“Shut ’em down,” said one man in the audience.
“Go old-school on their ass,” said another.
Teamsters around the nation should stage a general strike, even if just for six hours, suggested someone else.
Block or occupy the U.S. Treasury Department building, one man quipped.
“So, what should we do?” someone in the audience asked.
“Shoot them,” said yet another audience member.
Murphy and others at the meeting had more peaceful actions in mind.
The main thing, they said, is retirees need to act quickly to persuade the federal government to reject the pending application by the Central States Pension Fund, filed with the U.S. Treasury, asks for permission to cut their monthly pensions, Murphy said.
Central States Pension Fund last year became the first financially troubled pension fund to seek relief with the federal government under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act that was passed in late 2014. The law was designed to keep multiemployer plans solvent and continue to pay retirees, but possibly at reduced rates. Without making substantial changes, Central States said it will be insolvent in as little as 10 years.
As many as 48,000 retired Teamsters in Ohio and 400,000 across the nation face cuts, according to at least one estimate.
The Teamsters are organizing a call-in program that will connect retired union members with the local offices of their congressional representatives and U.S. Senate members, Murphy said.
“It’s very important you make these calls,” he said. “Don’t worry about being articulate. They’ll understand you. Speak from the heart.”
In addition, the union is asking retirees to send handwritten letters to their elected federal representatives as well.
“We can stop this,” Murphy said. “We need time. We need this rejected.”
On top of that, retirees from around the nation will be bused to Washington in the near future to protest.
Called to action
Retirees were also urged by Murphy to support the Keep Our Pension Promises Act legislation introduced last year by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo. The act would repeal the 2014 multiemployer pension law.
Murphy also said retirees need to support legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, intended to give workers and retirees a binding vote on pension plan changes.
“They don’t want angry retirees,” Murphy told the group. “You are building a movement. You are organizing around this and building something. You are having an effect.”
Rick Kepler, 66, a Barberton resident, former Consolidated Freightways worker and recently retired Ohio organizer for the Teamsters, urged his fellow retirees to take strong action to save their pensions, saying the United States is in the middle of a class war.
“I have a real problem thinking that we are going to be successful,” Kepler said. “We’re putting all our hopes in our baskets in the fact that maybe our Congress will take care of us and make this right for us, so that what we fought for and lived for our whole lives will continue so we don’t have to take these major cuts like this.”
People need to pay attention to the retirees who suggested such things as a general strike and occupation or blockage of the Treasury building, Kepler said.
“If all this goes down the tubes, what are we going to do? Just take it then? Accept what happened?” he asked.
Backing Sanders
Change needs to come from the bottom up, not top down, Kepler said.
“This is a country that honors wealth and not work,” he said. “We’re the ones who built this country. We’re the ones who fought in their wars. And this is how we’re going to be treated? To rip us apart, our families apart, and everything we fought for? So yeah, continue to call the Congress and continue all that stuff. But at the end of the day, all of my brothers and sisters in here, when we’ve exercised everything that we’re told about a democracy, come July and you get your first cut check, you better think there’s got to be another way in this country to deal with this stuff.”
“Bernie [Sanders] is asking for a political revolution, not a violent revolution, a political revolution,” Kepler said. “I hope to God Teamsters get behind Bernie and not that other corporate sellout ... who’s running against Bernie.”
The audience applauded his comments.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.