Pension Plan De-Risking Causes Concern for Unions and Retirees with Defined Benefit Plans

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Defined benefit plan sponsors have been quietly working to reduce corporate liabilities by moving retirees out of defined benefit plans and into group annuity contracts.  This practice, known to retirees as “pension stripping” takes away the uniform protections intended by Congress under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and dumps the retirees into the state insurance systems.  Ironically, healthy defined benefit plans are those most likely to be subjected to pension stripping.  Purchasing a group annuity comes at a significant cost to the plan sponsor but has the benefit of permanently removing the liability from the corporation’s books.  In the past few years the industry has seen pension de-risking transfers by Verizon and General Motors that affected over 150,000 retirees. The Verizon transaction was unique in that it did not involve a termination of the defined benefit plan – 41,000 management employees were selectively removed from the defined benefit plan and placed into a group annuity contract with Prudential.

Unions approaching the collective bargaining table should keep the many issues surrounding pension de-risking in mind.  De-risking transfers where defined benefits are replaced with a group annuity contract may create new risks for retirees that need to be addressed at the bargaining table.  A group annuity contract is governed by state law and all of the protections offered under ERISA including financial disclosures, fiduciary standards, uniform protection from creditors and bankruptcy trustees and uniform coverage offered by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) no longer exist post transfer.

Legislation is pending in New York that would help replace protections to retirees who are negatively impacted by pension stripping transactions and is expected to be introduced during the next legislative session in Connecticut and a number of other states.  New York’s Senate Bill is S 6150 and was sponsored by Senator Tony Avella of Queens. The bill is currently before the Insurance Committee.  A companion bill was introduced in the New York Assembly by Assemblyman Peter Abbate of Brooklyn. Thus far, the proposed legislation in New York and Connecticut which would bring more uniformity, transparency and accountability into this murky arena have been met with significant opposition from the life insurance industry.

As Special Counsel to ProtectSeniors.org, Edward Stone is assisting the organization in their grass roots campaign advocating for the enactment of state legislation to protect retirees who have been moved out of their ERISA protected defined benefit plans and into group annuity groups.

Edward Stone Law can assist your organization in understanding the risks and benefits involved in pension de-risking transfers.  For more information, email us at eddie@edwardstonelaw.com or call (203) 504-8425.

ProtectSeniors.Org is Leading Grass Roots Campaign Supporting Protections for Retirees in Pension Stripping Transfers

ProtectSeniors.Org is leading a grass roots campaign advocating for the enactment of state legislation to protect retirees who have been moved out of their ERISA protected defined benefit pension plans and into group annuity contracts.  As Special Counsel to ProtectSeniors.Org, Edward Stone Law has assisted the organization in their efforts to educate their membership on this important issue.  Retirees looking to actively participate in the ProtectSeniors.Org campaign can find more information at their website at www.protectseniors.org.

Pension De-Risking Debated at NCOIL Meeting

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On behalf of ProtectSeniors.org, a retiree advocacy group, Edward Stone debated the issue of pension de-risking at the Spring 2014 National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) meeting in Savannah, Georgia on March 9th with Prudential Insurance’s pension expert, Dylan Tyson.  Moderated by Rep. George Keiser (ND), former NCOIL President, the debate addressed questions such as what is pension de-risking; what affect does it have on retirees; and how do state and federal protections measure up? For details on the debate, see the April, 2014 issue of the Seniors Advocate, a newsletter published by ProtectSeniors.org.

NCOIL to Host Debate on Pension De-Risking Model Law

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Edward Stone will participate in a point-counterpoint debate on pension de-risking at  the NCOIL (National Conference of Insurance Legislators) spring meeting held in Savannah, Georgia March 7-9, 2014.  The proposed Pension De-Risking Model Act, sponsored by Rep. George Keiser (ND) would establish protections at the state level for retirees whose pension benefits were transferred from an ERISA protected plan to a substitute pension plan, such as a group annuity contract, provided by an insurance company licensed and regulated under state law.  The proposed Pension De-Risking Model Act requires mandatory disclosures, equal protection from creditors, an opt-out provision, a supplemental guaranty or reinsurance and approval for subsequent transfers.

Model Pension De-risking Act on NCOIL’s Spring Agenda

As more companies seek to reduce their pension obligations by transferring their obligations to insurance companies via annuity buy-outs, regulation of these risk transfers, including disclosures and protections for retirees will be paramount. Retirees often refer to annuity buy-outs as “pension stripping” transactions because the offloading of pension obligations to an insurance company or other annuity provider causes retirees to lose all of the comprehensive and uniform protections intended by Congress under ERISA, including the financial safety net offered by the PBGC.

The Pension De-Risking Model Act, sponsored by Rep. George Keiser (ND), was presented for the first time at NCOIL’s Annual Meeting in November of 2013.  The Pension De-Risking Model Act will be more fully explored at NCOIL’s Spring Meeting scheduled for March 6-9, 2014 in Savannah.  The Pension De-Risking Model Act provides for (1) mandatory disclosures to retirees whose benefits are transferred; (2) creditor protections for retirees;  (3) opt-out options for retirees; and (4) supplemental protections in the form of third-party guarantees or reinsurance.

Edward Stone  presented information on the importance of protecting retirees in pension de-risking transactions at the November NCOIL meeting and can provide assistance to those concerned about the impact of pension de-risking and pension stripping transfers on retirees.

Eddie Stone Talks about Pension Stripping on Labor Lines Radio

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In this radio interview on Long Island’s original labor radio show, Labor Lines, Vic Fusco discusses concerns over pension de-risking, or pension stripping as retirees refer to it, with  New York State Senator Tony Avella and Eddie Stone.   Pension stripping is the latest tool used by corporations to remove pension liabilities from their balance sheet.  The corporation purchases an annuity contract from an insurance company to replace a retiree’s pension.  This has the result of robbing retirees of their protections under ERISA and the safety net offered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.   Listen to the radio show here.

NY Senator Tony Avella to Introduce Bill to Combat Pension Stripping

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New York State Senator Tony Avella will introduce legislation in the upcoming session designed to protect retirees whose pensions are sold off without advance notice.  Once known as “pension de-risking” retirees refer to this method of transferring the financial risk of pensions from corporations to retirees as “pension stripping”.  The method of pension stripping that seems to be the corporate favorite converts a pension into a group annuity contract causing retirees to lose the uniform protections intended by Congress under ERISA including the  annual coverage provided by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.  The proposed legislation is designed to replace the protections for earned benefits that were intended under ERISA with reasonably equivalent  protection at the state level.

Where is Your Pension?

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The corporate desire to shed pension obligations went into over-drive in 2012 with pension de-risking transactions by Ford, General Motors and Verizon.  The pension de-risking trend allowed these corporations to eliminate their obligations to their retirees by billions of dollars.  In his column published in the Hanford Sentinel on August 21, 2013 columnist Dennis Beaver answers his reader’s questions about pension de-risking and passes along Eddie Stone’s advice:   “For your readers who are covered by a pension and looking forward to a comfortable retirement, I have a warning. Employers across this country have made promises to their employees which will not be honored. Simply stated, pension liabilities dramatically exceed their assets….This is a time when all present employees and retirees need to be aware of what is happening with their pension…”

De-Risking is Risky for Millions of American Retirees

Many major corporations have begun to pursue “de-risking” strategies and retirees are the victims, losing pension benfits and ERISA protections without their consent.  In this video featuring Edward Stone and Jack Cohen, a leading retiree advocate from ProtectSeniors.org, Stone and Cohen explain the dangerous impact of these “de-risking” transactions.

Class Action Suit in pension de-risking transfer

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A federal court in Dallas, Texas has certified a class action on behalf of Verizon pension beneficiaries, permitting 41,000 retirees to sue as a group over the transfer of their pension benefits to Prudential Insurance Company of America.