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Teamsters from North Dakota traveled to Minneapolis on Monday to voice concerns about a potential 50 percent cut to their pension plans.

On Sept. 25, the Central States Pension Fund, which benefits a number of Teamsters in North Dakota as well as other states, filed an application with the U.S. Department of the Treasury for a rescue plan under the Multi-employer Pension Reform Act of 2014. 

Tony Goetzfried, 70, of Mandan, started driving trucks and served as the local Teamsters business agent for 20 years. He said the plan was lucrative and had a lot of money for years.

“Well, things changed,” he said. “Consequently, we’re not completely sound.”

Teamsters Local 638 business agent Jeff Diede said the decline of the stock market and the 2008 recession, along with more retired than active members, as well as companies that went bankrupt without completing their financial obligations, has put the fund into its present state. Now, should the Treasury Department approve it, Teamsters are facing 50 percent cuts to their once-guaranteed pensions.

“We had all thought it would be like 25 percent or something in that area,” Goetzfried said.

Diede said there are 1,036 retired Teamsters locally that will be affected, along with 502 active members paying into the fund and 705 previous members that may no longer work in the industry but met years of service requirements to draw a pension upon retirement. Present and past Teamsters affected were employed locally by the SuperValu warehouse, Holsum Bakery, Kemps and Deans Foods.

“Half their pension is going to disappear,” he said.

Diede, who worked at the SuperValu warehouse in Bismarck for 26 years, is facing the same fate as his fellow union members. Those used to $2,500 per month could get $1,000 less, and some of those are not yet old enough to draw Social Security. Other workers with smaller pensions are being reduced to $900 per month.

“So you went from a decent pension to poverty,” Diede said.

Goetzfried said it's pretty much like telling someone that next week they’re going to work for half their current pay. Income goes down but, at the same time, Teamsters are paying more for health care, groceries and taxes.

“We’re all going to have to tighten belts,” he said.

While some union members are lobbying to keep their entire pension, Goetzfried said he’s in the camp of working with the fund to find a solution.

“I want the fund to be there when I’m dead,” he said, so his wife will continue to benefit. “We also have to protect those guys that are still working.”

Gotzfried said union members question how the fund landed on 50 percent cuts and the Teamsters would like to see how the calculations were made.

Diede said it took 10 to 20 years for the pension fund to fall, so asks why not create a gradual 10- to 20-year plan to fix it.

“We know there’s got to be something done but why so severe out of the gate,” he said. “It isn't great whichever way you look at it.”

In the meantime, local Teamsters are meeting with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and submitting comments to the Treasury Department in hopes of having their voices heard in the decision.

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(Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com)

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