“Ohio is losing $58 million a year because our pensions were cut,” stated Bruce Gump, president of the Delphi Salaried Retirees Committee, in testimony at a hearing of the Congressional Finances Committee in Canfield, Ohio, July 14. Ohio Congressmen Charlie Wilson and Tim Ryan were instrumental in bringing the hearing here to investigate cuts made by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. (PBGC), the agency which takes over underfunded pension plans from companies in bankruptcy.
Although Delphi, a former subsidiary of General Motors, was bankrupt, its pension plan was fully funded but became intertwined in the GM bankruptcy and was taken over by the PBGC resulting in cuts in benefits and health care. The retirees filed a lawsuit protesting the cuts.
Ohio Lt. Governor, and U.S. Senate candidate Lee Fisher received loud applause for his comments.
“We cannot allow Delphi and many other retirees to be evicted from the American dream,” he said. “We all have a stake in the fight for retiree justice. Pensions are not handouts. Workers paid into these agreements and they earned them for their long service to the companies. They are contracts, and a contract with working people cannot be less valuable than any other contract. We must fight to make certain that Delphi, and all retirees, are treated fairly!”
“This situation is part of an overall attack on retiree security,” said Rep. Ryan. “It needs to be addressed as part of a national solution to the issue of retiree security.”
He called for passage of the Protecting American Retirees in Corporate Bankruptcies Act (HR 4677/ S 3033) that would move worker/retiree claims from the bottom to the top in corporate bankruptcies.
Congressman Wilson called for tightening pension and bankruptcy laws, which were weakened under Republican administrations. He said the hearing would provide a spur to get these issues addressed by Congress.
“Retirees receiving PBGC pensions are hardly living ‘the life of Riley,’ said Norm Wernet, Ohio director of the Alliance of Retired Americans. “The average PBGC-based pension for an Ohio retiree is only $6,156 a year.”
“These earnings,” stated Wernet, “combined with the overall attack on retiree benefits, will not support any sustained recovery in our depressed economy.”
Aside from the bankruptcy reform bills, he urged passage of jobs bills and requiring the wealthy, who do not now pay Social Security taxes, to do so.
The Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) also voiced support for these measures and for extending unemployment compensation and more funding to strengthen the PBGC.
“I think we’ve broken down some fences,” said Delphi retiree John Vogel, “so that we can have a much stronger campaign for retiree justice that will involve salaried and union workers as well as the whole community!”
Mike Rubicz contributed to this article.