By ERIC DEAN
General President, Iron Workers
My clearest memory of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign was standing next to Joe Biden in Iron Workers Local 67’s hall in Des Moines in January. Then-candidate Biden had come to accept our union’s endorsement and lay out his platform to help ironworkers as president:
Getting rid of IRAPs, fighting for unionization and delivering that long-sought-after infrastructure bill were at the top of his list. Then he delivered the toughest, most sought-after promise — it might take two years, he cautioned, but as president he would get relief for our pension plans.
It turns out that Joe didn’t need two years — he got it done in under two months. The American Rescue Plan he signed into law in March contained massive relief funds for our pensions. No previous U.S. president has made relief for union workers such a priority in his first major legislation.
A LONG-STANDING PROBLEM
With this relief, President Biden has solved a long-standing problem. Past administrations did nothing as the U.S. Pensions Benefits Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), the insurance fund all of our U.S. pensions rely on, teetered towards bankruptcy. This made all of our retirements less secure and forced participants in the most endangered plans to face benefit cuts. We were told for decades that the government would take care of the problem “after the next election,” then help never came. The previous president dangled pension relief in front of us whenever he wanted something but never took a step toward delivering.
It’s different this time because of Joe Biden’s close relationships with the Iron Workers and other unions. When we endorsed Biden for president, our union relied on the trust of members that we were choosing someone who would fight for ironworkers and could deliver. Officers and staff constantly worked with the campaign to make sure their policy fit the needs of union workers, and ironworkers all over the United States turned out to help Biden win the election. Biden making the pension fix one of the first things he’s done in office is a testament to the power of American Labor and his commitment to fight for us.
Pension relief, and other provisions in the American Rescue Plan, will have a profound impact on the lives of thousands of ironworkers. Many will see the reversal of previous cuts to their fixed retirement income and be able to fully enjoy retirement. Others will be able to plan for retirement, secure in the knowledge that their pension benefit will be there. Beyond pensions, the American Rescue Plan’s unemployment benefits, COBRA insurance subsidy and stimulus checks will help many ironworker families weather tough times.
What about other promises, and what’s next? As I write this, Biden has killed off IRAPs by executive order and his Department of Labor is dismantling the IRAP (industry recognized apprenticeship programs) system piece by piece.
He has rapidly turned things around at the National Labor Relations Board, rooting out the anti-union attorneys that the last administration stocked it with and setting it on a mission to build up Labor. Biden’s first months in office have been a blaze of executive orders and legislation putting our priorities into practice.
Just over a year after we met in Iowa, I sat down with President Biden in the Oval Office alongside several other Labor leaders. We talked about our shared vision for a broad, robust infrastructure jobs bill and Biden reaffirmed his commitment to craft it with Labor by his side. Infrastructure is another one of those priorities that the previous president dangled in our faces but never delivered. We will need to mobilize our union to get it done. It will be tough, but it’s necessary, and given how things have gone with pensions, I like our chances.
(This column was originally published in the April 2021 edition of The Ironworker magazine.)