Battle for Pension Protection Underway in North Dakota

A fight for pensions across the U.S. is underway, as millions of retirees are facing the potential loss of their pensions.

FARGO, N.D. – For thousands of retired workers across the state, the battle for their pensions began in 2014, when the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act was signed into law.

It allowed pension plans that are in a critical status, like Central States, which covers thousands of workers in North Dakota, to reduce the benefits they pay out to those covered under the plan.

“I’ve watched a lot of friends die during this process, and people are going to their deaths not knowing if they are going to be covered, or if their family is going to be covered down the line. It’s just not right,” said Dennis Kooren, Chairman of the Fargo Committee to Protect Pensions.

Now, groups like the Fargo Committee to Protect Pensions are fighting for new legislation that would help lift pension plans out of a decline.

The Butch Lewis Act of 2019 aims to solve a pension crisis that would affect thousands of people across North Dakota, and over one million people across the country.

The legislation would provide loans to pension plans to prevent them from falling further into insolvency.

It would also restore their ability to pay out benefits to workers who were promised this money to begin with.

Opponents of the plan say this is simply a bailout that the American taxpayer has no responsibility for, and does not solve the underlying issue of failing pension plans.

“It’s my dad’s money. It’s not like we are asking for a bailout. This is money that he put into his pension, that got taken out of his check,” said Callie Nelson, a supporter of the Butch Lewis Act.

Callie is the youngest person in the room. She lost her father three years ago, and continues to fight his battle.

“I got involved because I wanted to carry on his voice so that somebody knew he still mattered. He worked his entire life for that pension. My mom is depending upon that pension,” said Callie.

She is hoping more people get involved.

“There should be hundreds of people sitting in here, but everybody says ‘Somebody else will fix it.’ and my dad had the same mentality for a while. Somebody else isn’t going to fix it. We all have to take a stand and try to fix this,” said Nelson.

Former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp originally co–sponsored the Butch Lewis Act in 2017, and Senator Kevin Cramer voted yes on the bill when he was a congressman. The bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this July, and is now in the U.S. Senate, where it has been referred to the Committee on Finance but has yet to be voted on.

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