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.
Articles Discussing Multi-Employer Pension Plans.
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District of New York had recently held that a multiemployer pension fund’s use of the “Segal Blend” to calculate a withdrawn employer’s withdrawal liability violated the provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), as amended by the Multiemployer Pension Plan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.
The precarious financial status of some multiemployer benefit funds has led to criminal indictment against non-contributors. This troubling expansion of potential sanctions for failure to make required contributions to multiemployer benefit plans appears in a case from the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
Employers who cease contributing to an ERISA multiemployer pension plan are liable for their allocable share of any underfunding, or “withdrawal liability.”
In a case of first impression, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that work performed by a non-union company acquired after a construction industry employer ceased contributing to a multiemployer pension plan (MEP) triggered withdrawal liability. The case, Ceco Concrete Construction, LLC v. Centennial State Carpenters Pension Trust, Nos. 15-1021, 15-1190 (10th Cir. May 3, 2016), should be paid close heed by unionized construction companies.
In the aftermath of the rejection of the Central States Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Plan (“Central States”) application to reduce core benefits by Treasury Special Master Kenneth Feinberg, it is critical that contributing employers to multi-employer pension funds recognize the harsh reality that help to those funds will not be forthcoming from the government in at least the near term.
Many multiemployer pension plans are struggling financially today, and, according to the PBGC, about 10 percent of the 1,400 plans are expected to become insolvent within the next 10-15 years. These looming insolvencies were in large measure the motivation behind the 2014 law that now allows plans in “critical and declining” status to cut vested benefits.
We have been monitoring and reporting on several disquieting events which have occurred in the multi-employer pension plan world within the past few months.
Since the passage of the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (“MPPAA”) the financial well-being of employers contributing to multi-employer defined benefit pension plans has been tied to the funding of those plans, many of which have been underfunded for decades. The downward spiral has been exacerbated by several unalterable factors: an increase in retirees, a decrease in active participants whose contributions support the retirees and an increase in life expectancy.
Both buyers and sellers in asset sale transactions should be cognizant of the ongoing erosion of the common law rule that the purchaser is not responsible for the seller’s liabilities absent a contractual assumption of such liabilities, as evidenced by a recent Ninth Circuit case finding that the theory of successor liability may be used to hold an asset purchaser liable for the predecessor’s $2.2 million withdrawal liability obligation to a multiemployer pension plan. Federal courts originally applied successor liability in the context of federal labor law where the successor employer had notice of an unfair labor practice and continued, without interruption or substantial change, the seller’s business operations. Over the years, this “successor liability” rule has been expanded to cover various other statutory liabilities under labor and employment law.