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pension reform

AFM Pension Reform and Janus vs. AFSCME: Is the Federal Government on the Right Track to Secure Your Future?

This month, the AFM Office of Government Relations examines two critical government issues—pension reform and the Janus decision. Pension Advocacy and Security Solutions for pension reform now rest in the hands of the bipartisan Congressional Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans (JSC). This committee was established to study troubled multiemployer pensions and come up with solutions to the crisis by the end of November. As the JSC moves on to the next phase of its work, it is time for the AFM-EPF, workers, and retirees to tell the committee their stories.

The AFM-EPF trustees have determined that the Butch Lewis Act, introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), would best protect our plan and that the JSC represents the best chance to pass this legislation. This act would make low-interest government loans available to pension funds that face financial challenges.

There is still a long row to hoe and changes to the Butch Lewis Act may be necessary to get bipartisan support. It is essential that AFM members make their voices heard in Congress to ensure the JSC produces a solution that helps the AFM-EPF and is fair to pension participants. AFM-EPF trustees continue to carefully study pending and proposed Congressional legislation and work alongside AFM staff to provide important information to Congress, as well as to answer fund participant questions.

Moving AFM Members to Action

AFM-EPF launched a webpage to connect participants with their members of Congress, as well as with JSC members.

Visit https://afm-epf.org/Congress.aspx to: learn about the JSC, identify your members of Congress, plan what to say, call or email your members of Congress, email the JSC, or meet with your members of Congress.

AFM-EPF participants can also register at https://afm-epf.org/Registration.aspx to receive the Pension Fund Notes newsletter, which includes regular updates on the JSC’s progress.

If you have not visited these sites, I urge you to do so today. It is important that multiemployer pension funds, participants, unions, and employers present a united front in demanding a solution. Acting on rumors can have a damaging effect on our goal to put your interests first.

Our Strong Advocacy Continues

On July 12, at the direction of AFM President Ray Hair, who was occupied at television negotiations in New York City, AFM International Executive Board member Dave Pomeroy (president of Local 257) and I joined more than 10,000 of our brothers and sisters from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), Teamsters, AFL-CIO, and other labor unions to raise our voices on the steps of the Columbus (OH) State House. We came together with UMWA President Cecil Roberts to tell personal stories about the importance of our pensions to our families’ retirement security and to urge members of Congress to act urgently. Pomeroy performed labor selections and spoke to the crowd on behalf of AFM members.

I stood in for Hair, delivering his remarks. The AFM’s strong participation sent a clear signal of solidarity with our brother and sister unionists—demonstrating that the AFM is an integral part of this battle.

Janus Ruling Upends 41 Years of Labor Precedent

On June 27, the Supreme Court of the United States released its long-awaited decision in the case of Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). AFSCME is the public sector union that represents state, county, and municipal employees across the country.

Mark Janus is an Illinois state employee whose unit is represented by the AFSCME. Under state law, Janus was required, like all other nonmember employees, to pay “agency fees” to AFSCME. These fees are earmarked to cover union expenditures attributable to collective bargaining activities or “chargeable expenditures.” (They may not be used for political and ideological projects or “nonchargeable expenditures”).

Janus refused to join the union because he disagreed “with many of the union’s positions, including those taken in collective bargaining.” The Illinois governor filed suit challenging the constitutionality of state law authorizing agency fees. Janus joined as a respondent. The Illinois attorney general intervened in support of the law. Eventually, the District Court dismissed the governor’s challenge, but allowed Janus to file his own complaint. Oral arguments were heard in the Supreme Court February 26 and June 27. The Court concluded its findings and released a ruling on the final day of the 2017 court term.

Justice Samuel Alito delivered the Court’s opinion, joined in the majority by justices Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Jr., Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch. The Court found that, because of the shortcomings in Abood v. the Detroit Board of Education (431 U. S. 209, 235–236) (which established the collection of agency fees), “states with public sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees.” Justice Elena Kagan delivered dissenting opinion, joined by justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.

This was a seemingly devastating blow to public sector collective bargaining and organizing. The groundswell of opposition came immediately and definitively from AFSCME President Lee Saunders, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and labor leaders across the country.

However, labor had already begun to organize in anticipation. Saunders had prepared his union for the onslaught of attacks from anti-union detractors. Three years ago, he began talking to union fee payers and non-fee payers, making contact with close to one million AFSCME members, apprising them of difficult times ahead should Janus be successful. On the day of the Supreme Court decision, he noted that we should expect Congressional legislation to mitigate the effects of the ruling.

At a press conference with House and Senate Democrats, highlighting “Better Deal” labor law reform proposals, Trumka made it clear that organized labor has prepared and is optimistic, saying, legislators are ready to introduce legislation “that will make Janus a footnote in history.” He noted that workers are organizing against this decision. He revealed that 15,000 new members recently joined the union movement in one week, and of the 262,000 new members who joined last year, 75% of them were under age 35.

The Better Deal Act, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, and the Workers Freedom to Negotiate Act are steps in the right direction. These laws, Trumka says, “will remove chunks of the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act and make progress forming unions and reaching a first contract a whole lot more fair.” He went on to say that the pro-business Supreme Court “is on the wrong side of history.”

It is up to AFM members to weigh in, when the time is right. We should work to further the notion of solidarity within our workplaces and make clear the danger we face by sitting idly, thinking this is someone else’s problem. We ask that you remain vigilant now and in the future.

Feel free to contact me at apollard@afm.org to discuss any of the details.

Advocacy and Pension Reform Take Precedence in Washington, DC

As AFM members are confronted with the uncertainties of both tax and pension reform, AFM President Ray Hair has refocused the work of the union’s Office of Government Relations to maximize its visibility and effectiveness relating to issues that impact our jobs and lives.

As I have stated previously, it is important for us to build relationships with coalitions that have similar interests. For some time now, the AFM has joined forces with nationally respected groups that come together to enhance our power of persuasion. One group we work with every year is Americans for the Arts, a nationally recognized organization that enhances the public policy voices of hundreds of national, state, and local arts organizations across the country.

For Arts Advocacy Day this year, in cooperation with the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees (DPE) Arts, Entertainment, Media Industries group (our primary coalition partner on most issues), American labor affiliates came together March 12-13 to make your concerns known to federal legislators who are recognized leaders on our issues. Seven meetings, attended by 12 union entertainment affiliates, worked both House and Senate offices on a variety of issues, including unreimbursed tax expenses; pension reform; support for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; music licensing; and arts education policy.

Through one collective voice, key legislators learned of the negative impact that the elimination or weakening of these programs will have on artists, American communities, and the overall national economy.

National Endowment of the Arts: This federal program is one of a few that actually pays dividends back to the economy. We emphasized that NEA grants are not frivolous giveaways of public dollars to elite arts groups. In FY 2017, the NEA’s $150 million budget generated more than $500 million in matching support in communities across the country. For each of the 16,000 communities in every congressional district served that takes advantage of the process, every dollar in grant money awarded generates a $9 (9:1) return. As for the artistic value of the NEA, between 2012 and 2016, NEA grant programing reached 24.2 million adults and 3.4 million children. Challenge America grants also supported projects in communities where the arts are limited by geography, economics, or disability.

NEA school and community-based programs supported adult and student programming, state arts collaborations, and programs between arts institutions and pre-K, college, and university educators. Art Works supports art that meets the highest standards of excellence, and inspires public engagement and lifelong learning in the arts to strengthen communities. Last but not least, NEA grants support military veterans and their families through the Creative Forces Program, in cooperation with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The NEA and NEH were not terminated and will each see a $3 million increase to
$152.8 million in the omnibus budget bill, which passed the Senate early March 23. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting received level funding at $445 million. This is a huge Congressional win for AFM members.

Taxes: For musicians suffering from shortcomings of tax reform changes in the new tax law, during lobbying visits the AFM and its affiliated unions made clear the disadvantages posed by the loss of itemized deductions. We took time with legislative staff to detail the effect of the shortsighted elimination of these deductions, specifically we listed items that will no longer be deductible for musicians working as W-2 employees. This issue also affects members of affiliate unions. Our concerted effort will help move this matter to the front burner when new tax negotiations begin.

As a tool to help understand the tax dilemma, in each office I left a copy of the article by Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) member Scott Stratton, CFP, CFA, that appeared in last month’s International Musician on page 2. This useful tool was shared with each congressional member and his/her tax staffer to use as resource material. (We thank Stratton for his timely article and AFM President Hair for its prominent placement in the IM.)

Music Licensing and Protection of Intellectual Property Rights

As Congress prepares to introduce the comprehensive Music Modernization Act, affiliate unions joined in raising awareness in each legislative office about the importance of supporting new copyright reform/music licensing reform, which has not been updated in more than 30 years. Our primary ask was for members to sign onto one of the principal components of that bill, the Classics Act, which would require digital services to pay both rightsholders and artists for the use of recordings made before 1972. As the musicFIRST Coalition works closely with members of Congress to introduce the overall Music Modernization package, which includes the Music Modernization Act, the Classics Act, and the AMP Act (with willing buyer, willing seller language), the AFM and its affiliates continue to lobby legislators to increase cosponsorship of the Classics Act.

Overall, the DPE-coordinated labor lobbying group left a profound impact on staff and legislators. Many saw this as the first time organized labor made a concerted visit during Arts Advocacy Day to push their powerful arts and entertainment agenda. Though this lobbying group was organized by the DPE, it is our hope to reduce costs in 2019 in order allow more AFM Signature and rank-and-file members to join our lobbying efforts in Washington, DC.

Pension Progress

AFM President Hair, along with the AFM International Executive Board and the AFM-EPF trustees, has made it a priority to engage pension concerns on every level. Official word on AFM pension comes directly from the Office of the President in cooperation with pension plan trustees. However, Hair has instructed the AFM Office of Government Relations, after endorsing S.2147, the Butch Lewis Act of 2017, to monitor and report ongoing Washington, DC, multi-employer pension reform debate activities. Under the last continuing resolution, Congress inserted language that created a new Joint Select Committee to take up the issue of pension reform and solvency.

The comprehensive budget bill that passed February 9, formed the bipartisan-bicameral Joint Congressional Select Committee on Multi-Employer Pension Plans, comprising eight Democrats and eight Republicans from the House and Senate. It is governed by the rules of the Senate Finance Committee.

On process, the United Mine Workers of America reports on its website:

Committee members must be selected by February 23, and the committee must hold its first meeting by March 12 (which took place March 14). The committee is required to make a report to Congress by the last week of November 2018. If there is an agreement to take action, the committee will draft and submit legislative language as part of that report. Agreement to move forward will require at least five Democrats and five Republicans. Any bill they propose will go before the relevant committees in the House and the Senate, where it cannot be amended or voted down. The bills will get expedited votes in both chambers. There will be no amendments allowed. The committee will hold at least five meetings, of which at least three must be public hearings. The committee is encouraged to hold at least one field hearing, away from Washington, DC.

At the initial meeting, it was clear that there is a real need to come up with a solution to this issue. Failure to do so could have devastating consequences for all workers, retirees, affected plans, the public in general, as well as the national economy.

The responsibility of the AFM Office of Government Relations is to engage congressional staff, do real-time reporting of pension related events, and work directly with other AFL-CIO affiliated unions to coordinate information for the AFM President’s Office.

Now that the Select Committee is in full operation, the focus will shift momentarily to policy matters relating to the committee’s design on these troubled pension funds. Committee appointees include Republicans: Co-Chair Orrin Hatch (UT), Rob Portman (OH), Lamar Alexander (TN), Mike Crapo (ID), Virginia Foxx (NC), Phil Roe (R-TN), Vern Buchanan (FL), and David Schweikert (AZ); and Democrats: Co-Chair Sherrod Brown (OH), Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Tina Smith (MN), Bobby Scott (VA), Richard Neal (MA), Debbie Dingell (MI), and Donald Norcross (NJ).