- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Dave Grant is a 69-year-old retired truck driver who lives near Davey, and he’s about to get hammered.

So is Jimmy Dean of Lincoln, who is 76. He was a truck driver for more than 50 years.

Beginning in July, Grant’s pension is scheduled to be reduced by 50 percent. Dean’s will fall 40 percent, from $3,000 to $1,942 monthly.

The Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/1l700g8 ) reports that their sharply reduced retirement benefits are looming just as medical expenses are likely to take up a larger share of their incomes.

Dean’s wife is a cancer survivor and has been in a wheelchair for 15 years.

“My wife is in very bad health and I’m the caregiver,” he says. “This will be kind of a shocker. We have some medical expenses on top of regular living.”

“It’ll be difficult,” Dean says. “It will be close.”

Says Grant: “It’s going to put a little crimp in my style.”

Both men receive pensions through a multi-employer plan managed by the Central States Teamsters. The payments used to be viewed as a guaranteed benefit that would serve as the safety net in retirement.

But the 2014 omnibus spending bill approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama authorized pension fund trustees to make deep cuts to retirees in certain financially troubled multi-employer plans.

Now, Grant and Dean and some of their fellow retirees are seeking a congressional investigation to determine what went wrong, how many people are affected and what to do about it.

They’re not asking for a government bailout, Grant says, although they noticed that huge bailouts have been readily available for banks and Wall Street investment firms.

Grant, Dean and a number of their colleagues have talked with all five members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation about the challenge they face, showing up at their town hall meetings and asking questions.

Sen. Deb Fischer has been the most open to a possible congressional probe, Grant says.

A couple of thousand Nebraskans are “in my position,” he explains.

“And it came as quite a shock to us.”

One retiree who has contacted him would experience a pension reduction of 61 percent, he says.

The U.S. Treasury Department has named Kenneth Feinberg as a special master to oversee the new program that allows certain pension plans to cut benefits for retirees. Before last year’s legislative change, plans could cut back on the retirement benefits for active workers, but not on benefits paid to retirees.

Feinberg was special master for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and after seeing him up close in Washington recently, Grant says he’s ready to put his faith in him.

Before cutting benefits, pension plan trustees must submit their proposal to a vote of all participants, including active workers and retirees.

With retirees older than 80 statutorily protected from any cuts, those between 75 and 80 shielded with more limited protections and active workers wanting to take action that will preserve the retirement plan for the future, retirees younger than 75 represent a decided minority of the total vote.

“That tends to stack the vote toward favorable,” Grant says, “when we want to turn it down and look at other solutions.”

Dean began driving a truck in Arkansas when he was 17; the largest segment of his career was 30 years with Consolidated Freightways.

Grant launched his truck-driving career in the 1960s and it included 29 years with Roadway Express. He drove in the city and over the road. Three trips a week to Cheyenne and Denver. Through a blizzard in Minnesota that swept him off the road and into the median. Sixty to 70 hours a week.

Now, he’s helping drive the effort to see how this pension plan failure was allowed to happen, demand accountability and determine what can be done to protect both retirees and active workers.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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