The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 30, 2004

Plan to help nation's pensions doesn't spell relief for trades

By The Building Tradesman

Congress provided relief to thousands of cash-strapped U.S. pension programs earlier this month, by approving accounting changes that will allow many retirement plans to change the way liabilities are computed.

But building trades plans – and the multi-employer pension plan system they work under – were specifically excluded from the relief provided by Congress and President Bush. The president had narrowly defined how much relief pension plans would be provided, and multi-employer plans were almost completely excluded from relief.

Why? Multi-employer plans are no better or worse off financially than single-employer plans. Many Democrats in Congress think it was simply anti-union bias by the Bush Administration.

“President Bush should be embarrassed to sign this unfair and spiteful bill,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, the democratic leader on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “When President Bush signs this bill, he should dress up as Marie Antoinette and say to the ten million small business employees left out of this legislation, ‘Let them eat cake.’ “

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.), said unionized construction workers who are affected by this legislation are the people the White House “doesn’t like, doesn’t want to help, or doesn’t (believe) needs help.”

Multi-employer pension plans provide a defined benefit to workers and involve agreements maintained by two or more employers in a particular industry. The Department of Labor said about 40 percent of all multi-employer plans are in the construction industry.

Rep. Bob Andrews (D-N.J.) sponsored a bill that would have included multi-employer plans, but it lost. Andrews told the Construction Labor Report that multi-employer plans were excluded from relief not because of monetary concerns, but to disadvantage union workers.

Actually a number of Democrats in Congress did vote for the bill, because it helped a number of pension plans, although it could have helped more. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin was among the supporters.

“For the companies whose plans this bill helps, it will free up resources for equipment upgrades, new hires, R&D, and other investments in the future,” Levin said. “I am troubled by the fact that the component of this bill dealing with most multi-employer pension plans that had overwhelming support in the Senate has been dropped out of this conference report.

“I am hopeful that we can provide relief to those multi-employer plans soon. That is why I will co-sponsor Sen. Kennedy’s bill that would do just that. If I thought that defeating this bill would help the many pension recipients whose plans were left out of this conference report, that would be one thing. However, after careful thought, I have concluded that defeating this bill would not achieve that goal but would only hurt those who do get the much-needed relief in the bill.”