Labor, Management Hail Pension Fix in Rescue Plan

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A provision in the American Rescue Plan that was approved last year will provide financial security for retirees, John Howley, a baker at Schwebel Baking Co., said.

Howley, who is shop steward of Local 19 of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Millers’ Union International, was among the Schwebel workers and members of management who joined U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown for a press event at the Midlothian Boulevard plant.

Among the items included in the American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed into law just over a year ago, was Brown’s Butch Lewis Act. The provision provides “one of the biggest victories for Ohio workers in a generation,” Brown, D-Ohio, said.

The act was named in memory of Butch Lewis, the retied head of Teamsters Local 100 in southwestern Ohio.

“Simply put, it invests in those pensions so for the next 30 years those pensions are guaranteed and they will be honored,” Brown said. The legislation will put “several million dollars” into the pension funds to ensure they meet their obligations, and the companies will put the needed dollars into the funds “in an affordable way” over the next 30 years.

The act will keep more than 120 multi-employer pension funds solvent and protect more than 1 million retirees from pension cuts, said Sam Cook, secretary/treasurer of Teamster Local 377. 

Senator Brown tours the plant, guided by Brian Senvisky.

Among those who will benefit from the fix are more than 100,000 Ohioans who have paid into affected pension funds. “These are workers that gave up money at the bargaining table today to put aside money for the future,” Brown said.

“I’m amazed by how many members of the Senate don’t really understand what collective bargaining is about. Collective bargaining is you sit down at the table, management and labor usually with respect one for the other,” Brown said. “Both sides give in in the end. They come up with a collective bargaining agreement about wages, about health care, about pensions.”

The kind of security that the act will provide is reassuring, Howley said.

“Without your pension, you work for the rest of your life,” he said. With your pension, you could at least have quality of life. You have good pay and you have some kind of security, knowing that when you turn a certain age, if it’s time to retire, you have that there.”

The financial infusion “breathes new life” into the pension funds, he said. Now all the company has to worry about is “getting the right amount of labor,” prices on commodities like flour “that are killing us” and high fuel costs, said Jim Behmer, Schwebel vice president of sales.

“We can’t stress enough how important this was to unions across the nation and companies across the nation, but particularly right here in the Mahoning Valley,” Behmer said. “Route salesman that are in the Central States Pension fund can continue forward with the knowledge that their pensions are going to be there and going to be safe when they actually have a chance to retire.”

Tammy Emery and Joe Wilson speaking with Brown in the breakroom.

Schwebel, which has operated since 1906, sells its breads, buns and other products throughout Ohio and surrounding states. 

“Thanks to our customers, we have become the number one brand throughout our marketing territory,” Behmer said. The company is preparing to start a $450,000 upgrade to its conveyor lines that will involve a 60-hour shutdown the week after Easter, typically its slowest week of the year.

The pension relief will benefit companies as well as their workers, Brown said. He shared a comment made by his colleague, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. Companies could start making capital expenditures to grow their businesses once the pension burdens on them were eased.

“The big guys always can find capital to expand and go into new lines and increase production,” Brown said.

Brown said he is continuing to work with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, to push legislation to help Delphi salaried retirees whose pensions were cut when General Motors filed for bankruptcy. The salaried retirees “did not have the protection of a union but paid into their pensions,” Brown said.

Though he has not spoken to Biden directly about the issue, he was “95% certain” that the president would support the legislation but said it has no Republican support outside Ohio.

He was unsure if a letter Gov. Mike DeWine sent to 10 of Ohio’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to support the legislation would be effective. So far, six Ohio representatives and both senators already are sponsors.

“Gov. DeWine doesn’t seem to have a lot of influence with House Republicans sometimes,” Brown said. “They are so far out there. He’s vetoed bills and gets overridden by his own party. So I don’t know that his involvement here will matter. I just hope we can do this bipartisanly and protect those families.”

Pictured at top: Jim Behmer, Schwebel vice president of sales, and Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.