What could be in the next stimulus bill in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Congress reportedly is working on a bill (dubbed “Stimulus 3.5”) that includes additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program created by the CARES Act. Will the new stimulus bill address long-awaited reforms to the multiemployer pension
Articles Discussing Multi-Employer Pension Plans.
Since its passage late in 1980, the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA) has proven to be a hindrance to the profitable operations of employers that contribute to multiemployer pension funds by imposing a surprise, and often expensive, obligation (the “withdrawal liability”) on employers across many industries. However, the construction industry is one of a few industries in which the impact of withdrawal liability upon employers has been eliminated.
For years, steep arbitration fees have made many employers think twice about contesting a questionable withdrawal liability determination. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) approval of a lower fee schedule may ease that hurdle.
In a white paper and technical explanations, Republican Senators Charles E. Grassley (Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance) and Lamar Alexander (Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) have proposed reforms to the multiemployer pension plan system.
A withdrawing employer must make withdrawal liability installment payments during the pendency of an arbitration proceeding contesting the existence of withdrawal liability, a federal court has affirmed, rejecting the employer’s attempt to recognize an equitable exception to the general “pay now, dispute later” requirement. Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust v. PSF Industries, No. 18-2467-JWL (D. Kan. Nov. 27, 2019).
The Segal Group is the premier actuarial firm in the country providing services for hundreds of multi-employer pension funds. For almost 40 years it has used its own methodology, known as the “Segal Blend” to calculate employers’ withdrawal liability successfully without an adverse ruling by either a court or an arbitrator in hundreds of cases.
Contributing employers to multiemployer pension plans (“MEPPs”) are commonly surprised that their obligations to such a plan can extend well beyond the contributions required under a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) negotiated with a union. The most significant extra-contractual obligation is withdrawal liability, a statutory exit fee imposed on employers that leave a plan that has unfunded vested benefits.
Congress enacted the withdrawal liability provisions of the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA) with the ultimate goal of protecting participants and beneficiaries entitled to benefits from multiemployer pension plans. Congress observed that such plans are financially burdened whenever an employer withdraws and permanently ceases to pay contributions and decided that the burden should be borne by the withdrawn employer. Consistent with this remedial purpose, the statute often produces seemingly harsh and/or unfair results (at least from the employer perspective.) The Third Circuit’s recent non-precedential decision in Nitterhouse Concrete Products, Inc. v. Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union aptly illustrates this principle.
This is another blog on our monitoring the status of defined benefit multi-employer pension funds. Since this author last wrote to you, it has been revealed that the Central States Pension Fund is scheduled to become insolvent sometime in 2025. Worse yet, it has been announced that the multi-employer fund of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (“PBGC”) which was structured to assist insolvent multi-employer pension funds is also projected to run out of money in 2025.
As our earlier article reported, Judge Robert W. Sweet of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York had recently held that a multiemployer pension fund’s use of the “Segal Blend” to calculate a withdrawn employer’s withdrawal liability violated the provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), as amended by the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (“MPPAA.”)
The expansion of the multiemployer pension plan successor withdrawal liability doctrine continues for asset purchasers. Establishing a constructive notice standard, the federal appellate court in San Francisco has ruled that a common law successor of a seller that withdrew from a multiemployer pension plan covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), as amended by the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendment Act (MPPAA), had constructive notice of, and was therefore liable for, withdrawal liability incurred by the asset seller. Heavenly Hana, LLC v. Hotel Union & Hotel Industry of Hawaii Pension Plan, No. 16-15481 (9th Cir. June 1, 2018).
In a decision that could have far-reaching implications for multiemployer pension plans and employers, a federal district court has held that the use of the “Segal Blend” to calculate a company’s withdrawal liability when it withdrew from a multiemployer pension plan violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), as amended by the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA). The New York Times Co. v. Newspapers & Mail Deliverers’-Publishers’ Pension Fund, No. 1:17-cv-06178-RWS (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 2018). The decision likely will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York.
The district court erred in finding a multiemployer pension plan did not show sufficient continuity of business operations to support imposing successor liability on an asset purchaser, the federal appeals court in Chicago has ruled in a case under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA) involving withdrawal liability of $661,978. Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Benefit Fund v. ManWeb Services, Inc., No. 16-2840 (7th Cir. Mar. 12, 2018).
Executive Summary: In a recent decision involving a withdrawal liability assessment by a multiemployer pension plan, an arbitrator reduced the assessment by approximately 50 percent and ruled in favor of the employer on several significant legal issues.
This is another article in our series addressing the continued deterioration and downward spiral of multi-employer defined benefit pension funds and the resulting impact upon participants, unions and most importantly on employers.