GUEST POST: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp - North Dakota Workers Deserve the Pensions They Earned

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Imagine this.

You worked your entire life in a job that enables you and your family to get by while providing a solid pension so you can retire with dignity. It’s a hard job that requires a great deal of manual labor which has taken a toll on your body over the years. After a few decades of work, you aren’t able to do your job anymore because of the injuries it caused. But you know that because you have been saving for retirement through your pension, you’ll still be able support yourself and your family.

Then, through no fault of your own, the pension you have been paying into is suddenly cut in half, stripping you of that safety-net you worked so hard for. How will you get by? How will you pay your mortgage? How will you pay your medical bills?

This is a story that shouldn’t happen in America – yet right now, it’s taking place over and over in North Dakota and across the country as proposed cuts to the Central States Pension Plan, a multiemployer pension fund, could rip away the retirements of workers and retirees in the trucking, UPS package delivery, and grocery supply industries. These cuts would impact more than 2,000 North Dakota families who could see their pensions slashed by up to 60 percent.

These workers and retirees did everything right. They worked for years, if not decades, and responsibly planned for the future, only to have the retirement they earned taken away.

During recent meetings I had in Bismarck and then in Fargo with more than 100 workers and retirees who would feel the impacts of these cuts, I heard their heartbreaking stories, and I promised to fight for them to help protect their pensions and make sure all North Dakotans have a secure retirement.

Dennis Gainsforth from Jamestown worked for UPS for 31 years. He needs surgery on one of his knees because of his decades as a night mechanic. Dennis is also helping financially take care of his son who had a stroke, and his wife needs back surgery. Under the proposed cuts, his pension would be slashed by 50 percent. As a result, Dennis, who is 72 years old, is now back at work driving a public bus in Jamestown.

Bob Berg from just north of Fargo worked at UPS for about 30 years delivering packages, which could weigh up to 150 pounds. Because of the hard labor of the job, he had surgery on both knees and his hand, five hernia operations, and back problems forcing him to retire early – and now his medical bills are skyrocketing. He receives $2,200 per month under the pension plan, but with the cuts, he would receive just $1,150 – a 50 percent cut.

Mark Rothschiller from Mandan worked at UPS for 28 years delivering packages to rural communities in North Dakota. Because of the intensity of the work, he had five back surgeries and two rotator cuff surgeries. After the last surgery, Mark’s doctor told him to stop working as he could lose his ability to walk. He now walks with a cane. He relies on the pension he earned to help pay his medical bills. But under the proposed cuts, Mark’s pension would be cut by more than 50 percent.

These are just a few of the many stories from the 400,000 retirees impacted across the country. Last week, I joined hundreds of those retirees, including Bob and Dennis, for a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to push back against these proposed pension cuts.

We face a looming deadline in May, as the U.S. Treasury Department completes its review of the cuts to the pension fund. The Treasury Department should reject the harsh proposal and seek a fairer option, and I recently met with Ken Feinberg – the Treasury official overseeing the restructuring of the pension plan – to reinforce that point.

Dennis, Bob, Mark, and so many others worked tirelessly their entire lives, contributing to their pensions over decades so they can retire with dignity. We need to reward hard work by making sure families’ retirement savings are secure and will be there when they most need it.