New York State Teamsters Conference Pension & Retirement Fund
IBT Comments to Treasury and Fund Response
The IBT has submitted a letter containing its comments on the Fund’s Revised MPRA Application to the Treasury Department, and the Fund has written a letter to the IBT in response. These letters were forwarded to me by the Fund, and I’m posting them below to maintain transparency on the issues and to enable you to be fully informed on matters relating to Fund’s Revised MPRA Application.
My Comments to Treasury on the Fund’s Revised MPRA Application
Please see the comments on the Fund’s Revised MPRA Application that I have submitted to the Treasury Department here.
Actuarial Report on Fund’s Revised MPRA Application
The actuaries who have been assisting me have written a report on the Fund’s revised MPRA application, a copy of which is here. Their prior report on the Fund’s original MPRA application contains their analysis of the parts of the application that were not changed, and is still relevant on those matters. A copy of that prior report is here.
TREASURY CONFERENCE CALLS WITH PARTICIPANTS IN THE NEW YORK STATE TEAMSTERS FUND:
Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 10:00-11:00 a.m.Eastern Time
Toll-Free Conference call-in number: 888-947-9025
When prompted, dial the conference participant code: 9012761
Political Action Update
For the past several months, I have been working along with the Fund and others, in a group named the Save Our Pension Coordinating Committee, to try to get some government action on our Fund’s crisis. An update on the current legislative proposals and the activities of the Committee is here. Please check this site and the Fund’s website for future updates.
Update on Treasury Meetings
The Treasury Department held Town Hall meetings in Albany on June 14 and in Buffalo on June 15. I attended both meetings. The Treasury official present, Robert Neis, briefly described Treasury’s role in reviewing the Fund’s application, and explained that the purpose of the meeting was for Treasury to hear comments from the participants who were able to attend, and then to take any questions.
At the Albany meeting, I made clear that I and many others were very unhappy about the short notice provided for the meeting. Mr. Neis acknowledged the problem, explained that it resulted from Treasury’s cumbersome internal procedures, and said that the agency would try to do better in the future. He made similar comments at the outset of the Buffalo meeting.
After his introductory remarks, Mr. Neis heard comments and answered questions at both meetings. Participants commented on the impact the proposed cuts would have on them, the unfairness of the voting procedures, the history of the Fund’s benefit changes, their inability to make up the lost benefits through work, and other issues.
The main theme emerging from participants’ comments was a lack of trust—lack of trust in the Fund, in the IBT and its locals, in the Treasury Department, in the government, and in this Retiree Representative. This was not very surprising, given the 29% cut we’re facing after having earned and counted on our full benefits for so long. Mr. Neis listed to all the comments and answered questions to the extent that he could, and encouraged people to make written comments to Treasury.
I also strongly encourage everyone to submit comments to Treasury. Please see below for information and links on how to do so.
Please also note that Treasury has scheduled additional Town Halls by teleconference, as detailed in the “Upcoming Meetings” box on this site.
Finally, please keep checking this website and the Fund’s site for further updates.
Tom Baum, Retiree Representative
COMMENT PERIOD OPEN THROUGH JULY 17
The Treasury Department will be receiving comments on the Fund’s Revised MPRA application through July 17, 2017. The official comment notice is here. Comments can be submitted online here, or by mail to:
Department of the Treasury, MPRA
Office, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.,
Room 1224, Washington, DC 20220.
Attn: Eric Berger.
Comments will not be accepted by email or facsimile.
Please click the above link for the full text of the revised MPRA application that the Fund submitted to the Treasury Department on May 15, 2017.
- The Fund’s revised MPRA application has been posted here on the Treasury Department’s website. As with the initial application, I will be posting it on my website in a more easily usable form soon.
- Comments to Treasury on the revised application are not being received yet, but the comment period should be opened soon. When that happens, I’ll post about it on this site.
- Congressman Paul Tonko has written a letter to John Bulgaro, Co-Chairman of the Fund’s Board of Trustees, concerning their meeting on the Fund’s crisis. A copy is available here.
***REVISED MPRA APPLICATION PLAN SUBMITTED TO TREASURY***
On May 15, 2017, the Fund’s Board of Trustees submitted their revised MPRA application (the “Revised Application”) to the Treasury Department. As expected, the Revised Application proposes cuts of 29% for retirees, inactive vested participants, and beneficiaries, and to 18% for actives, effective October 1, 2017. The same protections from cuts as before will apply if the Revised Application goes into effect.
The 2% reduction in cuts as compared to the original application was possible largely because of the Fund’s investment earnings in the interim.
As with the original application, the Fund will be sending you an estimate of the effect of the cuts on your benefits. Please make sure the Fund has your current address.
The Treasury Department is expected to provide a 45-day period for comments, and to expedite its review of the application. If the application is approved, there will be a participant vote within 30 days after the approval.
Further details on the Fund’s revised application are available here, in a notice that has also been posted on the Fund’s website. Once the application is posted on the Treasury Department’s website, I will also post it on this site, in a form that will hopefully make it easier to find and view the more important documents.
Please check this website and the Fund’s website for further updates.
NEWSLETTER – APRIL 7, 2017
Dear Retirees, Beneficiaries, and Inactive Vested Participants,
Please read the below all the way through, and consider reading it twice. This information is very important, and some of it is complicated. Reading it thoroughly will hopefully help prevent unnecessary misunderstanding or confusion.
*** FUND MPRA APPLICATION IS BEING WITHDRAWN & REFILED***
The Fund’s Board of Trustees has decided to withdraw its application (“First Application”) to cut benefits pursuant to the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (“MPRA”), and to file a revised application. The Board made this decision based on communications from the Treasury Department suggesting that the First Application would be denied. Some questions and answers are below.
Will benefits be cut on July 1, 2017?
The benefit cuts provided for in the Fund’s First Application will not go into effect on the proposed effective date of July 1, 2017, but the Fund expects that the cuts proposed in its new application will go into effect on October 1, 2017, if the application is approved. Thus retirees and beneficiaries will continue to receive their usual monthly benefits after July 1, 2017, though perhaps only until October 1, 2017 for those affected by the new application. (The Fund originally thought the effective date could be September 1, 2017, but based on futher communications with Treasury, the effective date will not be before October 1, 2017.)
What will happen next?
The Fund is planning to submit a new application as soon as possible, and the Treasury Department has indicated that it would work to expedite its review. Participants will still be given notice of the new application and its effect on their benefits, as well as an opportunity to submit comments to the Treasury Department, as before. In addition, there will still be a participant vote if the application is approved by Treasury. If the new plan for cuts is voted down by the participants, the cuts may be put into effect anyway if the Fund is found to be “systemically important” based on the amount of liability it would impose upon the PBGC. Just to be clear, it is not certain that the plan will or will not be considered “systemically important.”
What will the cuts proposed in the new MPRA application be?
What the cuts will be under the new application remains to be seen. These cuts will be determined by the Board, and I will again argue vigorously to make the cuts as small and as fair as possible for those I represent.
Previously the Fund said cuts in a new application would be deeper than 31%, because the Fund’s fiscal condition was expected to deteriorate significantly between the effective date of the First Application and the effective date of a later application. But there is some reason to hope that the cuts under the new application will not actually be deeper. The Fund’s investment earnings during the last few months have been better than expected, which could help make deeper cuts unnecessary. It’s still possible, however, that the new proposed cuts will be deeper than 31%.
What was wrong with the First Application?
The Treasury Department questioned two significant assumptions used in the First Application.
First, it questioned the explanation of the investment return assumptions used in the First Application, which were 6.75% in the short term and 7.5% in the longer term. Treasury asked why these assumptions differed from the higher rates suggested by a survey of investment managers, and requested a detailed explanation of how these percentages were determined. As a result of these questions, investment return assumptions higher than 6.75% and 7.5% may be used in the new application. If the Fund is encouraged to use a higher return assumption, this could help to prevent deeper cuts.
The Treasury Department also questioned a second significant assumption and indicated that the mortality assumption used by the Fund might need to be revised.
Finally, the Fund may consider changes to some of the less significant actuarial assumptions that Treasury reviewed.
Again, however, what the new application will provide remains to be seen, and Treasury has not specifically stated what assumptions it would like the Fund to use at this time.
UPS PRESENTS LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL
In a meeting in Washington, D.C. on March 27, 2017, representatives of UPS held a meeting with trustees of troubled funds, including our Fund; the IBT; and government officials. At the meeting, UPS described its proposal for legislation to address the crisis facing many multiemployer plans.
Under its proposal, the government would provide low interest loans to the funds and the funds would cut benefits up to 20% for all participants. There would be no protections from cuts based on age or disability pension status, or from the cuts bringing benefits below the PBGC-guaranteed level, though some protection might be provided for small benefits.
The proposal also provides for increasing revenue to the PBGC through higher premiums paid by funds; employee, union, and employer surcharges; and government funding. The PBGC would then pay a portion of “orphan” benefits—i.e., benefits arising from work for employers who have failed to pay their full withdrawal liability—equal to the PBGC-guarantee amount that would apply if the fund went insolvent. A copy of UPS’s draft proposal is here.
Please note that the Fund has not supported UPS’s proposal, and that it is unclear whether it is supported by other funds or by government officials.
* * *
I would like to thank all the retirees and spouses who participated in the letter-writing campaign to government officials. We had almost 1,000 letters that were sent in.
As always, if you have questions or issues, please feel free to contact me using the information below.
A copy of the above is available here, and will also be sent by mail to all retirees, beneficiaries, and inactive vested participants.
ALBANY MEETING RECAP
At the March 6, 2017 meeting in Albany, 300 plus people attended, along with a reporter from the Albany Times-Union. I and my attorney gave updates and answered questions, and most importantly, retirees and their family members wrote letters to Congress seeking immediate action on our Fund’s crisis. We hope to have more meetings soon.
If you weren’t able to attend the meeting and would like to send letters to government officials, please contact your local union for copies of the form letter we’ve prepared, or see the “Take Action—Write To Congress” section below. Please note that you, your spouse, and any family members affected by the cuts can send letters. To find your representatives’ addresses, see: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.
TAKE ACTION – WRITE TO CONGRESS
Please write to your representatives in the Senate and the House of Representatives about the threat to our benefits. A letter you can use for this purposes is here. It has space for you to include information about your own situation. You can find contact information for your representatives through this website: https://www.usa.gov/elected-
CONGRESSIONAL CAUCUS TO PROTECT PENSIONS
Please see this news release from Minnesota Congressman Rick Nolan concerning the creation of a “Pension Protection for Working Americans Caucus” in Congress.
HOW WE GOT HERE
The Fund has prepared this summary providing background on the situation faced by our Fund and similar funds.
The Fund has put together the documents below that can be used for contacting government officials about the threats to our benefits.
Please see the Fund’s press release about its Mobilization Plan here.
The “Take Action” information I posted in in April 2016 can also be used for this purpose:
Please click here for a press release from the Fund concerning its Mobilization Plan for raising public awareness and working to get official action on the crisis facing the Fund.
***COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED TO 12/21/16***
The Treasury Department has granted my request that the deadline for commenting on the Fund’s MPRA application be extended. The new deadline is December 21, 2016. Please get your comments in by then.
A copy of the notice about the new deadline is here. And here are the details on how to submit comments:
Comment Deadline: December 21, 2016. Comments will only be accepted if they are received on or before December 21, 2016. Online comments must be submitted by 11:59 pm Eastern Time on that date.
Submitting Comments Online
To submit comments online, you can use the following link to the Treasury Department’s comment portal for the Fund’s application:
You can also access the comment portal through the Treasury Department’s webpage for MPRA Applications: https://www.treasury.gov/services/Pages/Plan-Applications.aspx. On that page, scroll down to the entry for the Fund’s application and click on “Comment on Application.”
Comments can be submitted by mail to the following address:
Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20220
Attn: Eric Berger
No Email or Fax Comments. The Treasury Department will not review comments sent in by email or facsimile.
Sheila and George Griffith sent me an email with a very thoughtful consideration of the issues facing the Fund, and some interesting comments about the spousal benefit issue. Please see a copy here.
Letter to Treasury About the Comment Period:
The deadline for submitting comments on the Fund’s MPRA Application is November 14, 2016. I don’t think this deadline gives those I represent enough time to digest the Application, prepare their comments, and get them in, so I’ve written a letter to the Treasury Department requesting a thirty-day extension of the comment period. Please click here for a link to a copy of the letter. I will post any response that I receive.
Please note, though, that until further notice, the Treasury comment deadline remains November 14, 2016. Please see further information about commenting below in the section concerning my “October 2016 Newsletter.”
OCTOBER 2016 NEWSLETTER:
Below are links to my most recent Newsletter, along with two documents that go with it. The Newsletter contains information on several issues, including how to submit comments on the Fund’s MPRA application to the Treasury Department. Please be aware that the deadline for submitting comments to Treasury is November 14, 2016.
You should be receiving copies of these documents in the mail soon.
***ALERT—BOARD OF TRUSTEES FILES MPRA APPLICATION***
On August 31, 2016, the Fund’s Board of Trustees filed with the Treasury Department its application for permission to make benefit cuts pursuant to the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA). A copy of the Fund’s notice concerning the filing is attached here, and has also been posted on the Fund’s website: https://www.nystpensionfund.org/.
The basic terms of the Fund’s plan for cuts as set forth in its MPRA Application are the same as those described below. Further details are in the application, which will be available on the Treasury Department’s website (https://www.treasury.gov/services/Pages/Plan-Applications.aspx) once they have formally accepted the application for review. Once again, the Treasury Department can take up to 225 days to determine whether or not it will approve the application. A copy of the application will also be posted on this website when it is available.
You should receive a mailing from the Fund, including an individualized estimate of the effect of the proposed cuts upon you, shortly after the Treasury Department formally accepts the application for its 225-day review. Please make sure the Fund has your correct address.
I will be communicating with you further about the application after I have reviewed it more fully, and after I have had a chance to hear some of your comments.
Tom Baum, Retiree Representative
***ALERT—Trustees Adopt Plan for Cuts***
At a meeting on August 4, 2016, the Board of Trustees adopted a specific plan for benefit cuts to be included in the application (the Application) that it will submit pursuant to the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA), as follows:
- For those not protected from cuts by MPRA:
- 31% cut for retirees, beneficiaries, and deferred vesteds (“Inactives”)
- 20% cut for actives
- As required by MPRA, some will be protected from these cuts:
- No cuts for pensioners and beneficiaries who are receiving benefits and reach age 80 during the month when cuts go into effect (the “Effective Month”), which is expected to be July 2017
- Partial protection from cuts for those aged 75-79 as of the Effective Month, on a sliding scale based on age
- No cuts for those receiving a disability pension from the Fund
- Cuts cannot reduce benefits below 110% of the amount guaranteed by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC). The current maximum PBGC guarantee amount for a retiree with 30 years of service is $1,072.50 per month; 110% of that is $1,179.75. But please note that how this protection applies in each case will depend on each individual’s circumstances.
- Rules on suspension of benefits for post-retirement work will be relaxed.
- Cuts will be scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2017.
- The Fund plans to file the Application with the Treasury Department on August 25, 2016.
- Shortly after the application is filed, the Fund will send out notices about the application and individualized estimates of whether and how the cuts will affect each person.
As Retiree Representative, I did not have a vote on this plan. I will be commenting further and communicating with you by mail soon. You will also be receiving information directly from the Fund.
I’m sorry to be sending you this news. Please see the other information, documents, and links on this website for further information. And please also feel free to contact me using the information below.
Tom Baum, Retiree Representative
Update Your Addresses
The Fund will be mailing you important information in the coming weeks and months. Please make sure the Fund has your current mailing addresses by sending them, with your signature, by mail or fax to:
NYST Pension Fund
PO Box 4928
Syracuse, NY 13221
If you have different addresses for different times in the year, please make sure the Fund has each address and the time when it applies. And if you move or are planning to move, please let the Fund know of the new address and when it becomes effective.
Clarification re: Insolvency Date
Some questions have arisen about the statement in my June 2016 Update (link below) that the Board is considering making cuts under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) because our Fund is expected to run out of money within 19 years. Under the MPRA, a fund can only apply to cut benefits if it is projected to become insolvent within that period of time. The statement in my Update was meant to note that the Fund meets that standard, not to say that the Fund isn’t expected to go insolvent before 2035.
Actually, as some of you know, the Fund has presented materials at meetings stating that the Fund is projected to become insolvent in 2026. That was an estimate based on certain information and assumptions at the time it was prepared, so I did not include it in my Update. But it could well be accurate, I’m sorry to say.
My name is Tom Baum. I worked as a UPS driver in upstate New York for 29 years and served as a Business Agent for Teamsters Local 294 for 6 years. In 1999, I retired and began receiving a pension from the New York State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund (the Fund).
As a lot of you know, the Fund has been in financial trouble for several years. Under a federal law enacted in 2014, troubled funds like ours are required to consider doing something drastic—cutting benefits, even for some people currently receiving pensions. That law is called the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA).
Under the MPRA, a fund that wants to cut benefits has to submit an application to the Treasury Department for approval. Before submitting an application, funds like ours have to appoint a “Retiree Representative.”
The Retiree Representative’s job is to advocate for the interests of retired and deferred vested participants and beneficiaries of the fund throughout the application approval process. (“Deferred vested participants” are those who have stopped working in covered employment and who have a right to a pension, but who have not yet started receiving benefits.) A critical part of that job is working to make sure that any cuts are fair and equitable to the groups represented by the Retiree Representative.
On January 18, 2016, the Fund’s Board of Trustees asked me to serve as the Retiree Representative, and I accepted the appointment. My position is unpaid, though under MPRA I am required to have reasonable expenses, including reasonable legal and actuarial support services, paid by the Fund. I interviewed several different law and actuarial firms on February 8, 2016, and selected a law firm, Spivak Lipton LLP, and an actuarial firm, Savitz, on February 11, 2016. I will be working very closely with these professionals so that I can perform my duties with a firm grounding in the legal and actuarial issues involved in the MPRA process.
I take this responsibility very seriously. Like you, I worked believing I was earning a solid pension benefit, and now I’m having to think about those benefits—benefits we and our families all depend on—being reduced. This would be a serious hardship for many. But the alternative may be worse.
As you all know, a number of problems have hurt both the Fund and the industry over the years. Deregulation, employers going out of business, employers going non-union, and economic downturns have all hit the Fund hard. Because of these changes, the number of people actively working in jobs covered by the Fund is now a lot smaller than the number of Fund participants and beneficiaries. As a result, the amount of money going out of the Fund is a lot more than the amount coming in. (For more information on the Fund’s financial condition, please click on the link to the Fund’s February 2016 Newsletter in the “Links” section of this page.)
If the Fund runs out of money, a government agency—the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC)—will loan the Fund money to pay a portion of the benefits due. But the PBGC’s funds are also limited. If it runs out of money, even those partial benefits may not be paid.
The question facing the Trustees is whether cutting benefits will keep the Fund from running out of money and leaving participants with only the reduced PBGC benefits, or no benefits. If so, they also have to decide how exactly to cut benefits to achieve this goal.
As they consider those questions, I will be getting as much information as possible to make sure the Trustees’ deliberations are based on valid facts and analysis, and I’ll be doing whatever I can to minimize the impact of any plan for cuts on the retirees, deferred vested participants, and beneficiaries I represent.
Your input is extremely important, and I know you will have a lot of comments, ideas, and questions. I want to hear it all.
I will be providing you with information on the process and the steps I have taken. The Fund will also be providing you with information. Links to the Fund’s webpage and other sources that may be useful are provided on this page.
While this is a very difficult situation, I welcome the opportunity to advocate for the interests of those I represent, and to make sure that their voices are heard loud and clear.
Tom Baum, Retiree Representative
Fund webpage: https://www.nystpensionfund.org
Fund February 2016 Newsletter: https://www.nystpensionfund.org/media/1059/2016-pension-retirement-fund-update.pdf
Treasury Department MPRA webpage: https://www.treasury.gov/services/Pages/Benefit-Suspensions.aspx
PBGC webpage: http://www.pbgc.gov/
Find your member of the House of Representatives: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Find your Senator: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
List of Orphan Employers (i.e., employers with unpaid withdrawal liability): http://nysteamstersfundretireerep.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Orphan-employer-list-April-2016.pdf
While I cannot respond to every phone or email message, I will take them all into account. Please note that as Retiree Representative, I represent only retirees, deferred vested participants, and their beneficiaries with respect to the MPRA application process. If you are an active participant, or if you have questions about Fund issues unrelated to the MPRA processs, please consider contacting the Fund.