Giamberardino says his union's national plan, as well as its 112 local plans, are mostly in good shape, but it does have a few in what is referred to as the yellow zone -- troubled -- as well as in the red zone -- deeply troubled. If those plans can't be turned around, workers can expect to receive no more than $13,000 annually from the PBGC -- assuming the PBGC remains solvent enough to pay that.
"No one wants to get to that point," Giamberardino says. "The heads of many of our member companies were apprentices and journeymen once, and they continue to be card-carrying union members. They understand what it means to be an employee and how important those pensions are."
Legislative, regulatory solutions
It is critical for unions and employers to craft a solution this year because many of the provisions of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which offer tools for unions and employers to bail out troubled plans, expire at the end of 2014, says Joseph P. Paranac Jr., labor attorney at LeClairRyan in Newark, N.J.
Paranac works with union employers to help them manage their pension obligations. He says the available remedies in the Pension Protection Act for fixing troubled plans seemed severe when the law was passed in 2006, but since the economic meltdown in 2008, they don't look so harsh. Paranac thinks Congress ought to take pressure off multiemployer plans by extending the Pension Protection Act right away. "Nobody wants the act to expire and go into oblivion," he says.
Some union employers are angry and think any proposal that will cost them money is the wrong one. The National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, which released the "Solutions Not Bailouts" report, calls for educating members of regulatory agencies and Congress to adopt their recommendations.
But some image problems are hard to overcome. As one Teamster member, who asked to remain anonymous, says, "The rumors have been running rampant for years that because of bad management, there will be no money in the pension fund for the retirees."
Giamberardino shrugs at union members with that kind of attitude: "Do you keep letting the roof leak, or do you fix it?" he asks.