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Fri Jan 13, 2017, 10:03 AM

Ohio workers face precedent-setting pension and retiree health cuts

This month, 2,000 members of Iron Workers Local 17 of Cleveland, Ohio are being forced by their union to choose whether to lose half of pension benefits on February 1, or all of them when their underfunded multi-employer pension fund runs out of money in 2024. At the same time, 800 Honeywell retirees from UAW Local 533 are bracing for the loss all retiree health benefits. In each case, workers are under attack by the courts, the Republican and Democratic parties, and the trade unions, whose corporatist orientation allowed companies to underfund pensions for decades while the unions were integrating themselves into the structures of management.

The voting process thrust upon the Cleveland iron workers is blackmail, and a mockery of democracy. The choice offered to the workers is this: Give up half of pension benefits now, or lose everything in less than a decade. This pits active workers, who will get nothing if the fund goes bankrupt, against retirees, who will be thrust into poverty by the proposed cuts.

The 21-day mail-in voting period ends January 20. All votes not received will be counted as votes in favor of the cuts. Of the local’s 2,000 voting members, fewer than 700 are active. Of the remaining 1,300, many have either retired or moved to other jobs, making them more difficult to reach, and increasing the likelihood of a “yes” vote in favor of cuts.

The pension payouts for a career Local 17 ironworker currently amount to roughly $2,500 monthly, after a $600 deduction for spouse healthcare. A 50 percent cut would mean an annual income of about $15,000, below the federal poverty level for a family of two. The Iron Workers Local 17 fund currently has $223 million in liabilities with only $90 million in assets, due in large part to a shrinking workforce and decades of underfunding.

Read more: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/11/ohio-j11.html

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