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John Kline pushes for cuts to union pensions

MinnPost file photo by Craig Lassig
Rep. John Kline

I don’t recall him campaigning on this. Jim Spencer of the Strib  reports, “Dave Erickson of Isanti, Minn., believed his pension benefits were guaranteed when he contributed a fixed portion of his pay into the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. On Wednesday, Erickson learned that those benefits might be cut under a provision that Minnesota Rep. John Kline aims to tack onto the new federal budget bill. … Kline’s push to get it into the omnibus budget bill that Congress must pass to keep the government running enraged retirees like Erickson. The provision, which primarily affects major unions’ retirement plans, has never been introduced into the House or Senate on its own.” I can understand why.

Community Action seems to have received very light oversight from the Commerce Commission.  At MPR, Tom Scheck says, “In December 2011, Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and Community Action of Minneapolis CEO Bill Davis stood side-by-side at a press conference to plead for more federal money to help low-income people pay their heating bills. As the pair made their case in front of the cameras, however, staffers inside the Commerce Department were struggling to figure out how Davis’ nonprofit had already misspent more than $1 million in energy funds. Commerce analysts had grown increasingly alarmed that money meant to aid the poor was going to people who were not eligible to receive it.”

This is cutting into the profits. According to the AP, “The Corn Plus ethanol plant in the south-central Minnesota city of Winnebago has agreed to pay a $25,000 penalty and take steps to reduce its air pollution and noise levels. … Corn Plus has paid about $660,000 in state and federal penalties for air and water quality violations and agreed to environmental improvements costing nearly $700,000 since 2009.”

There’s no excuse for this happening again. Don Davis of the Forum News service writes, “ … but experts say propane and wood for heating and coal for generating electricity could be in short supply if this winter begins to look like last winter. … Propane supplies look better than last winter and wood supplies are down, the commission learned. Executive Director Roger Leider of the Minnesota Propane Association said his industry is happy this year, but needs further work to avoid a propane shortage, and price spikes, like occurred last winter. He also warned that a return of last winter’s weather could produce a problem.”

Hockey fans may be a step closer to getting their dream fulfilled. You know, sitting outside in  midwinter watching pro hockey. At SB Nation, Joe Yerdon says, “It’s no secret that the Minnesota Wild want to host an outdoor game. You might say they feel entitled to one because of how ‘wild’ the citizens of Minnesota are for hockey. Now, the team is close enough to landing an NHL outdoor game that it can practically taste the snow on the tip of its tongue. The Wild and the Colorado Avalanche are the leaders to host a Stadium Series game next season, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger. … Coors Field in Denver and either Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis would make for likely locations for a game and both cities would likely turn a Stadium Series game into a circus of events.”

Billy Joel?  That “big announcement” about a “major concert” at the Target Center? Chris Riemenschneider of the Strib says, “Billy Joel will return to downtown Minneapolis for a May 16 concert, the arena announced Thursday with an unusual morning news conference that prompted rumors of much bigger names performing there. …  The arena had teased music fans Wednesday with a tweeted photo showing New York’s Times Square and a sign reading ‘Happy 1999!’ That triggered a guessing game: Would it be Prince — possibly on New Year’s Eve?” A word to the Target Center PR staff. Don’t do that again.

 Tim Phelps of the Tribune News Service reports, “Opening the door for what could be a lucrative and controversial new industry on some Indian reservations, the Justice Department on Thursday will tell U.S. attorneys to not prevent tribes from growing or selling marijuana on the sovereign lands, even in states that ban the practice. … The policy is likely to be criticized in states opposed to marijuana sales, particularly those with Indian reservations.”

I vote for “hideous.” Shades of the Cedar-Riverside towers. Cathy Wurzer and Laura Yuen at MPR discuss the garish sound wall going on I-94. “Drivers motoring along Interstate 94 near Highway 280 in Minneapolis are calling a new sound-improvement project everything from ‘refreshing’ to ‘hideous.’ Workers have covered the existing sound wall with a thick layer of mineral wool. But it’s what’s on top of that — multicolored panels of sheet metal — that has some drivers reacting. The panels cost about $760,000 and resemble rows of rail cars.” Maybe when they’re done with that they’ll get around to some landscaping of I-94 through St. Paul.

If you only read Chapter Eight of “Fast Food Nation,” you’ll have a feel for this story. Cory Zurowski at City Pages writes, “Years have passed since Pablo Ruiz worked as a floor supervisor inside a swine slaughterhouse in Austin, Minnesota. Yet his body remains in constant pain, the result, medical experts say, of inhaling a daily dose of pig brain tissue mist. According to Ted Genoways, author the new book The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, Ruiz, was one of the roughly two dozen former workers — 90 percent of them Hispanic — at the Spam factory in southern Minnesota, who in 2006 showed symptoms of a bizarre neurological disease that caused body fatigue and extreme pain in the extremities, as well as swelling of the spine and brain.”

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Tom Clark on 12/11/2014 - 01:33 pm.

    Well, it’ll change

    Those panels practically scream “graffiti magnet”.

  2. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 12/11/2014 - 02:47 pm.

    Kline, pensions?

    So, is he giving up his own pension and health care as a gesture of good faith? What, no? Well then, that’s a Republican for you. Always ready to help others make sacrifices for the good of all.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/11/2014 - 04:29 pm.


      There seems to be more to this than meets the eye. According to the Strib story, there is a real concern that a lot of union pension plans are underfunded and there isn’t enough in the guaranty fund to make up the difference. The SEIU actually supports this bill.

      Of course, it would be better to have it as a stand-alone bill, debated on its merits. I think many of us are justifiably suspicious when Republicans start tinkering with someone else’s pensions (especially union ones).

      • Submitted by Alex Seymour on 12/11/2014 - 05:44 pm.

        It’s not republicans

        According to the article, it is being co-spooned by a democrat that has the backing of some unions. Besides, “a republican spooned it” is a weak argument of the desperate.

        And yes, it is because many defined benefit programs, union or not, are desperately underfunded. Too many times fat pensions for tomorrow would be for tomorrow in lieu of pay raises today, using actuarially magic to pay for these pensions. I could never understand what madness the union reps were under when they signed up for these deals. They must have known the money would not have been there.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/12/2014 - 10:33 am.

          Whoever sponsors it

          and for whatever reason, it would be better governance if a policy change like this were stand-alone legislation, not offered as a piece of a broader spending bill.

          Given the recent Republican history with regard to the working class in America, I think we have every reason to be suspicious. It’s not like Rep. Kline is known as a friend fo the worker, or of organized labor.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/11/2014 - 05:45 pm.

        Thanks, But…

        John Kline concerned about union pensioners. Yeah, sure. I’ll bet Scot Walker is too.

        And I seriously question any union that lobbies in favor of a Kline bill or amendment.

        Kline has sold out his fellow vets in favor of the for profit higher ed industry. Why would I think he would look anymore favorably on union pensioners?

        How come we could bailout Wall Street and the big banksters who drove us into worldwide near depression, but we can’t afford to help retirees that paid taxes and worked hard for a lifetime?

        Sen. Warren is right, the game is rigged.

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 12/11/2014 - 04:44 pm.

      The guy has TWO

      First the military, and now Congress. So basically he’s never been in the “real” workforce before. I am so glad that I am now out of his district.

  3. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 12/11/2014 - 03:52 pm.

    Graffiti magnet!

    No kidding.

    Why didn’t they find something that blends in with the terrain instead of panels that look like they came out of my kindergarten class at Adams school!

  4. Submitted by George Carlson on 12/11/2014 - 10:06 pm.

    The headline “John Kline pushes for cuts to union pensions” is misleading. He is not pushing for cuts; he is sponsoring legislation that will allow the trustees of multi-employer pension plans that are underfunded to partially cut benefits to current retirees so as to allow future retirees in the same plan to receive at least some benefits to which they would be entitled.. These underfunded plans are run by the unions, not the multiple employers.

    If these underfunded plans continue to pay the current benefits, they will run out of money. Current retirees will be cut off at that point and future retirees will receive none of their expected payments from the fund. Several of the unions involved have pushed for this solution. There is no insurance or other funds available to make up the shortfall.

    The only other recourse would be a government bailout of pension plans that are not government-sponsored nor government-insured. I for one do not see why the government should indemnify retirees receiving very high benefits with tax money received from taxpayers who these days probably will never receive a defined benefit pension.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Weyandt on 12/12/2014 - 12:26 pm.

    280 and 94

    I haven’t checked today but I think it is in Saint Paul.

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