More than a quarter of a million active and retired truckers and their families could soon see their pension benefits severely cut — even though their pension fund is still years away from running out of money.
Within the next few weeks, the Treasury Department is expected to announce a crucial decision on whether it will approve reductions to one of the country’s largest multi-employer pension plans.
The potential cuts are possible under legislation passed by Congress in 2014 that for the first time allowed financially distressed multi-employer plans to reduce benefits for retirees if it would improve the solvency of the fund. The law weakened federal protections that for more than 40 years shielded one of the last remaining pillars that workers could rely on for financial security in retirement.
For many workers, the promise of a guaranteed income stream for life — a benefit now nearly extinct for younger generations — was at times strong enough to convince them to sacrifice pay raises or other job opportunities. But after decades of challenges that left many pension funds in tough financial straits, some people are learning in retirement that the promises made to them may have to be broken.
The Central States Pension Fund, which handles the retirement benefits for current and former Teamster union truck drivers across various states including Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, New York and Minnesota, was the first plan to apply for reductions under the new law.
Consumer advocates watching the case say the move could encourage dozens of other pension plans across the country that are facing financial struggles to make similar cuts.