Reporters notebook

In the 2001 movie “Oceans Eleven” starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Julia Roberts, a gang of thieves wanted to rob a casino. The problem they faced was getting the money out of the heavily guarded vault. Their bold solution was to put the cash in the bags of the bomb squad team which had been called in to foil the theft. This reminds me of the role in the pension heist now being played by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC).

The real-life crooks, like those in the movie, are using the agency that’s supposed to protect the money to steal it.

Set up in 1974, the PBGC is an insurance fund for defined-benefit pension programs. But the Bush administration has an ideological aversion to pensions for workers, and under its leadership the PBGC is aggressively seizing pensions, even those that are still in a position to pay benefits.

For example, the Bush-appointed PBGC head moved up the date of RTI’s pension termination in 2002 in order to prevent thousands of steelworkers from qualifiying for the benefits they had coming. Steelworker Bruce Bostick reported his pension went from $2,900 to $1,500 a month as a result of this sleight of hand.

In the case of United’s bankruptcy, the flight attendants are adamant that the billions of dollars in their pension fund are being seized not to protect their interests, but to pay United’s corporate creditors and to finance obscene bonuses and retirement packages for executives.

The PBGC can now join the list of agencies like the NLRB and U.S. Department of Labor that were established to protect workers but are being perverted under George W. Bush into black bags to carry away our hard-earned wages and benefits.