COVID relief bill could save distressed union pensions


Congress is working on a lengthy bill for further COVID relief. One small portion of it is modeled on the union-backed Butch Lewis Act, which passed the U.S. House in 2019 but not the U.S. Senate. Butch Lewis would provide loans cash grants to union-sponsored multiemployer pension plans that are otherwise headed toward insolvency.

About one in 10 multi-employer pension plans are in that situation thanks to stock market losses and declining numbers of active employees in the plans, and the wellbeing of up to 1.3 million union members and spouses is at stake. Butch Lewis would shore up declining pensions and restore benefits that were cut by some pensions in an effort to forestall insolvency.

If Congress does nothing, the Central States Teamster Pension is expected to run out of money in 2025. That would lead the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) itself to become insolvent. PBGC is a government insurance agency that guarantees pension benefits.

The Butch Lewis proposal was included in the COVID relief bill that passed the House Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 11 by a vote of 25-18. That cleared it for a vote on the House floor. The final version of the next COVID-19 relief bill is expected to be voted on in March.

A stand-alone version —The Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 (EPPRA) — was introduced Jan. 21 by Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chair of the House Ways & Means Committee.

According to a summary of the bill, a troubled pension plan would receive enough financial assistance to keep it solvent and funded for 30 years—with no cuts to the earned benefits of participants and beneficiaries. Plans that previously cut benefits would have to restore them to the retirees who earned them. In exchange, each plan would have to comply with certain conditions and report to PBGC.

[NOTE: This article has been corrected. The Butch Lewis Act of 2019 (S.2254) would have rescued plans via a loan, but the pension rescue in Section H of the House COVID relief bill takes the form of a cash grant.]


  1. You article says the Butch Lewis (no hyphen) would give loans to union pension funds. The new bill, which passed committee and is part of the COVID response budget reconciliation bill, titled Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act (BLEPPRA) would give GRANTS to union pension funds and stabilize the entire multi-employer pension system!

    You don’t have to publish this reply, but I wanted to make sure you got all of the good news! Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

    • I’ve deleted the hyphens, and more importantly corrected the article: The Butch Lewis Act of 2019 (S.2254) would have rescued plans via a loan, but the pension rescue in Section H of the House COVID relief bill takes the form of a cash grant. We’ll also publish a correction in our next print edition. Thanks for keeping us on our toes!

  2. All of these people need the support of both the house and the senate. They gave up raises in order for their employers to contribute to their retirement plans. Consider these EARNED benefits and should not be stripped away due to lack of action by our elected officials. I am the victim of a failed plan and my wife’s plan will also fail without legislative support. To those of you who are fortunate enough to be receiving earned benefits from a solvent plan–imagine your plan is on the verge of collapse and your benefit could be drastically reduced. We need the support of all americans here.

  3. I just retired after working 30 years at UPS. I am also a member of the Central States Pension Fund which will be insolvent in 2 years with help. I often contacted the fund them and asked why their assets were decreasing yearly. I never, ever got a written response or a letter. I, along with thousands of other Central States Pension Fund members deserve what was promised. We need the federal government to step in and fund our pension payments we worked for at UPS and other companies in the fund.

    • So the president signed it and it passed and everyone’s excited but for the people who are in dire need of it now there’s no word no matter where I read of how long it will take to get the pension amount rien stored or any back owed us any word on this

  4. Would this act as now passed the house and senate restore the benefits that were cut in my pension? More specifically the 29% cut that reduced my accrued benefits in the New York teamster plan.

  5. I read the covid-19 relief bill I work for the 1005 machinist Portland Oregon for daimler trucks will this restore the cut that lost in 2008 back to my original plan of 85 and out

  6. Hi Douglas, we’ll have another article soon that will try to answer this and other questions about the pension rescue that just passed. At this point, my guess is the answer to your question is “probably not,” but that’s just a guess. My understanding is that the pension plans can’t improve benefits as long as they’re underfunded, and this machinists plan is underfunded. If the machinist pension has recently been in “critical and declining” status, it can apply for assistance under this program — a great big cash grant that would allow it to invest so it can meet all its future obligations. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, will be issuing regulations that put conditions on plans receiving these grants. Those regulations will include under what conditions plans can increase future accrual rates, give any retroactive benefit improvements, and reduce employer contribution rates, as well as how it will affect withdrawal liability. —Don McIntosh

  7. Retired in 2014 in 2016 pension reduced 2,000 dollars a month. New York teamsters local 707. Will I receive my full pension again. And will we get retro from when we were cut.

    • I expect the answers are yes and yes. The New York State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund would apply for the grant, and once approved, it would restore your pension to what you were receiving before and also pay back all the amount that was cut from you the last few years — either in a lump sum or in installments over a period of five years. —Don

  8. i am a member of UAW Local 365. Our pension was cut by one third and went to the PBGC.
    would we be covered under the Covid felief?

  9. My friends dad work for United Steel his pension was cut by $500.00 a month. Will he get his full pension back.Will union employee pensions get help with their pensions thru this Covid Relief.


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