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Workers, Retirees Rally At Statehouse To Save Pensions

Ohio Public Radio

Thousands of union workers and retirees from around the country rallied at the Statehouse Thursday calling for a fix to the nation's pension crisis. 

The rally was held ahead of this afternoon's scheduled congressional field hearing on the issue. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Nats: “Are you ready to fight for your pensions?”



Teamsters, coal miners, and workers from various other industries are calling on Congress to pass a bill that will save their pensions. The rally comes ahead of a special Congressional committee meeting, to be held in Columbus, on the issue.


Many plans are in danger of insolvency, with an estimated 1.3 million retired union workers who could lose their pensions in the near future. Sixty-thousand of those workers are from Ohio.


Bill Saunders of Belmont County in east Ohio, is a retired coal miner. He says he worked 53 years, knowing that he’d receive his pension down the line.


Saunders: “To fight for something all your life, work your life, then have someone else come in and say ‘no you didn’t earn that something else…’ no, that’s not the way it works.”


Nats: “Fix it! Fix it!”


Mike Kelley was also in the crowd. He’s a coal miner from Dillonvale near Steubenville, and while he’s not receiving a pension, Kelley is concerned about his fellow workers who rely on that money.


Kelley: “To worry month by month, not knowing if it’s going to be there, I don’t think that’s right. After you work your life and retire you should be able to relax and know that that pension check is going to be there.”


Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown has raised concerns about this issue for years. Brown, a co-chair of the committee meeting in Columbus, says this is vital for unions but insists this is more than just a labor issue.


Brown: “My obligation is also to protect these businesses whose financial viability is in jeopardy if we don’t fix this and ultimately the pension system which undergirds tens of millions of workers is threatened.”


The pensions are in danger for several reasons: the latest national recession in 2009, a high volume of retirees, and corporate bankruptcies to name a few. The fear is that the collapse of those vulnerable pension plans can create a wave of insolvencies even for the plans that are doing ok. And that can mean millions more could lose their pensions as well.


Brown has introduced the Butch Lewis Act, named in memory of a Cincinnati labor leader. It creates low-interest, 30-year loans to help support the pensions. But Brown says he’s open to negotiating with anyone on the issue, adding that he’s had productive conversations with Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman. Portman is also on the committee, making Ohio the only state with two lawmakers on the panel. Portman says he also believes there’s a way to bring both sides together.


Portman: “I think we can do it. We’ve got to put politics aside to do so. It’s going to be one of those, I hope, rare occurrences in Washington where we recognize the crisis and shove the politics aside, seize the opportunity and find a workable solution that all parties can rally around.”


Nats: “I said are you ready to fight!”


For Bill Saunders and his fellow union workers, they say lawmakers need to act soon. Brown’s bill has been stalled in the Senate for a while, but some conservatives – including Brown’s Republican opponent this fall, Congressman Jim Renacci – have opposed the idea, calling it a bailout using taxpayer money.


Saunders fires back at that argument.


Saunders: “If we reversed this and put the politicians in the same position we’re in, what would they do? It would’ve been repaired already.”


The special Congressional committee must complete its work by the end of November. They hope to vote out a plan by that time. A bill can only pass out of that committee with at least 10 votes, five must be Republican votes and 5 must be Democratic votes. If they do pass something, then that bill is guaranteed a trip straight to the Senate and House floor for a vote.


The Statehouse News Bureau was founded in 1980 to provide educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations. To this day, the Bureau remains the only broadcast outlet dedicated to in-depth coverage of state government news and topics of statewide interest. The Bureau is funded througheTech Ohio, and is managed by ideastream. The reporters at the Bureau follow the concerns of the citizens and voters of Ohio, as well as the actions of the Governor, the Ohio General Assembly, the Ohio Supreme Court, and other elected officials. We strive to cover statehouse news, government issues, Ohio politics, and concerns of business, culture and the arts with balance and fairness, and work to present diverse voices and points of view from the Statehouse and throughout Ohio. The three award-winning journalists at the bureau have more than 60 combined years of radio and television experience. They can be heard on National Public Radio and are regular contributors to Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace. Every weekday, the Statehouse News Bureau produces in-depth news reports forOhio's public radio stations. Those stories are also available on this website, either on the front page or in our archives. Weekly, the Statehouse News Bureau produces a television show from our studios in the Statehouse. The State of Ohio is an unique blend of news, interviews, talk and analysis, and is broadcast on Ohio's public television stations. The Statehouse News Bureau also produces special programming throughout the year, including the Governor's annual State of the State address to the Ohio General Assembly and a five-part year-end review.
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