Above photo: Brad Vaughn.
This week, they’re ‘ecstatic.’
Green Bay, WI – For the first time in seven years, thousands of Wisconsin Teamsters don’t have to worry about their pensions being cut in half.
The American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday, included the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021. The act directs the Pension Guaranty Benefit Corp. to allocate billions of dollars to avoid the drastic cuts.
The act will shore up the Central States Pension Fund, a multi-employer fund for 1.3 million retired Teamsters, 23,500 of whom live in Wisconsin. About 3,400 members live in the Eighth Congressional District, which includes Green Bay and Appleton.
Failure to act would have dealt a huge blow to those retirees who gave up wages to keep their retirement funds, and who have come to depend on payments to survive, said Brad Vaughn, a member of the Wisconsin/Green Bay Committee to Protect Pensions.
“To say we are ecstatic would be an understatement,” Vaughn said. “It was so emotional for everybody. It’s hard to even get a grasp on how many people’s lives it will affect in a positive way.”
The retirees formed regional committees across the state to lobby Congress first to reject the proposed pension cuts, which happened in May 2016, and then to support the Butch Lewis Act. They raised funds to send members to rallies in Ohio and Washington, D.C., as well as to lobby Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation.
“We started at ground zero with a bunch of truck drivers who didn’t know how things worked in Washington,” Vaughn said. “We did the rallies. We went to Washington. We built relationships with senators and representatives and got to know their staffs. We’re reaping the benefits of the hard work we sunk into it for years.”
Larry Holterman, a retired Teamster who worked at Morning Glory Dairy for 35 years, said he spent the last seven years with the threat of a 55% cut to his pension looming in the back of his mind. He said Biden’s signature on the bill Thursday took “a big burden off my mind.”
“I can walk into the sunset of my life knowing I’ll have a pension every month,” Holterman said. “It’s a comfort. It was a rough seven years to get through.”
Holterman said he didn’t think this day would come without the effort of the committees retirees formed across Wisconsin, people like Vaughn who helped lead the charge and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who met with retirees and co-sponsored the Butch Lewis Act in prior years.
“We couldn’t get the followers we had without their leadership,” Holterman said. “Brad knew how to speak to people and he never gave up. I will appreciate that for the rest of my life.”