Local 33 retiree details the impact of pension-saving American Rescue Plan

May 31, 2024

The Great Recession of 2008 derailed the lives of working Americans and families. For SMART members, the economic downturn made its impact felt in a variety of ways — among the most devastating being its effect on union pensions. With assets plummeting, the Sheet Metal Workers’ National Pension Fund and local union pension funds alike were forced to take steps to secure their retirement plans, leading to drastic cuts to retiree benefits.

For SMART Local 33 (Northern Ohio) member James Chester, who had already taken a reduced pension payment in order to retire at age 55, the loss felt earthshattering.

 “It was a shock to my financial system,” he said. “It was a shock when I had everything worked out to the details, worked out [for] when I retired.”

Local 33 retiree James Chester, whose pension was restored by the American Rescue Plan, stands next to his van at the Local 33 union hall.
Local 33 retiree James Chester, whose pension was restored by the American Rescue Plan, stands next to his van at the Local 33 union hall.

For Chester and fellow retirees, the promise of a union-won pension was a motivating factor throughout decades of hard work, offering not just financial security but the chance to enjoy their “golden years” with their loved ones. The inability of legislators to provide needed pension relief in the years following the recession left many of those workers flailing, paying the price for an economic catastrophe spawned by unchecked Wall Street greed.

“I probably lost a third [of my pension],” Chester said. “And that was a big hit.”

“I had to sit down and really get my pencil sharpened. Really had to do some figuring out — how am I going to make [it through] this?”

And then, in early 2021, workers finally got the reward they deserved for their decades spent building our nation. President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law, which included funding for multiemployer pension relief. For the approximately 1,600 SMART members in the Sheet Metal Workers Pension Fund based in Massillon, Ohio — James Chester being one of them — that meant the full restoration of their retirements.

“I looked to my wife with a smile on my face. She said, ‘James, what are you smiling about?’ What are you smiling so much about?’” Chester recalled. “Until I [told] her, ‘Babe, guess what. We’re getting it all back.’ … I got all the money back. I was ecstatic.”

Along with pension restoration for retirees, pension protection funding in the American Rescue Plan will put the Ohio Sheet Metal Workers Pension Fund on the path to solvency going forward – helping to secure the future benefits of active SMART sheet metal workers. According to Chester, that fact alone, on top of investments in union jobs and American industry, make it vital to vote for pro-union candidates in the upcoming election.

“I vote my wallet,” he declared.