Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

The Wall Street Journal Slams Union Pensions

One of the less reported reasons why unions have been desperate to pass EFCA is because of their underfunded pensions. Changing the rules to facilitate union organization efforts would yield them more dues-paying members to prop up their fledgling pension plans. The Wall Street Journal takes the union pensions plans to task for their inadequate funding. Many of the major union pension plans are either at “endangered” or “critical” status:

In April, the SEIU National Industry Pension Fund—which covers some 101,000 rank-and-file members—announced that its pension has been put into what the feds call “critical status,” or “red zone.” In other words, it lacks the cash to pay promised benefits and may have to cut them. As of 2007, the last year for which it reported results to the government, the fund had 74.4% of the assets needed to pay its benefits.

Thirteen of the bigger plans operated for the Teamsters have, together, a mere 59.3% of reserves necessary to cover obligations. Or consider that 26 pension funds at the food workers union, the UFCW, are at 58.7%. Seven locals at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters fare better at 67%. As a rule of thumb the government considers a fund to be “endangered” at below 80%, and in “critical” status at below 65%, and requires them to come up with a plan to get off probation within a decade.

Just as troubling is the disparity between the performance of union officers’ pension plans and benefits versus those of dues-paying members:

An even bigger mystery is that the unions do a far better job with funds created for their officers and employees than for mere workers. The SEIU Affiliates, Officers and Employees Pension Plan—which covers the staff and bosses at its locals—was funded as of 2007 at 102.2%. The plan for the folks at SEIU international headquarters was funded at 84.8%.

Union officer benefits are also far more generous than anything dues-paying workers enjoy. Consider again the SEIU, probably the country’s most powerful union. Their officers and employees get a yearly 3% cost of living increase, but SEIU members get none; officers qualify for an early pension at 50 or after more than 30 years of service, but workers can’t retire early with a pension; officers qualify for disability retirement after a year’s service, but workers need 10 years. In the land of union retirement, some workers are more equal than others.

As the Journal concludes, there are many reasons why most Americans in the private sector workforce are not part of a union. Poor pension performance and disparate benefits are just two more reasons why most Americans don’t want to join a union or support EFCA.

Categories: Center for Union FactsEFACNewsSEIUTeamstersUFCW