WASHINGTON— After learning his retirement, via the Central States Pension Fund, was in jeopardy, Wisconsin native Bob Amsden decided he’d get back to work as a full-time advocate for pension reform.
"We received the word in December 2014 that Congress passed legislation that would allow the multi-employer pension funds that claimed they were in critical or declining condition to cut existing retirees pensions," he said. "We were blindsided by that. And when we found out that it wasn't just a small cut, it was up to 73%, that was devastating. What would destroy people's lives."
By 2016, he had recruited several other retirees from the state, including Bernie Anderson and Kenneth Stribling, to help him take the fight to Capitol Hill.
“We started letter-writing campaigns,” said Anderson. “We've hand-delivered over 30,000 letters to our representatives. Each time we would take 2,000-5000 letters. We're on pretty much first name basis with all our representatives in the state.”
Amsden says it’s been a six-year-long struggle.
“We just carried this thing to the end,” he said. “It’s very emotional. Very hard-fought. We gave up our lives. We gave up everything.”
They realized the toll this would have on them in 2018. Stribling was invited to testify before a Senate committee during the time his wife Beverly was battling pancreatic cancer.
“I was overwhelmed with sorrow knowing when I testified — and I did let the senators know— that my wife wasn't going to make it,” said Stribling. “[I knew] she probably would not be around to see a solution found. But I had made a commitment to her in order to join these two distinguished gentlemen that I had to commit that I would never quit until a solution was found.”
But last week saw a bittersweet victory for the Stribling after President Joe Biden signed into law legislation they had been fighting for.
“I got down on my hands and knees and I looked up at the sky and I said to her — I called her Mouseketeer — I fulfilled my promise,” said Stribling.
The Butch Lewis Act, included in the American Rescue Plan, provides billions in sweeping relief for struggling multi-employer pension plans. Under the law, eligible plans can gain financial assistance from a new Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) fund under the U.S. Department of Treasury.
"The bill we had worked on for so many years, the Butch Lewis Act, was named after an Ohio teamster retiree who had organized and worked so passionately to deliver for his coworkers, his colleagues, his fellow retirees, the benefits that were promised when they worked so hard every day," said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin.
The senator has been a key advocate for its passage after talking to workers staring down a retirement crisis for years.
“I can't imagine being 10 years into retirement and hearing news like that,” said Sen. Baldwin. “It’s like the rug being pulled from under you. But these retirees, they were determined not to take this sitting down.”
Amsden, Anderson, and Stribling said they certainly didn’t take it sitting down. And after years of hard work, they’re now looking forward to a much-needed break.
“There's a certainty now in my life and the rest of our pension years’ lives that we don't have to worry about,” said Stribling. “I can actually really settle down and be a grandfather.”