Pension plans in America no longer represent commitments that financially troubled companies will honor. Neither bankruptcy courts, nor Washington, nor unions have the clout to make them do so. The disposition of these plans is instead left to serve the needs of big investors. Often these investors are a failing company’s best hope of restructuring after bankruptcy. Investors want a lean investment unburdened with financial promises to employees no longer on the payroll. Despite laws passed to discourage the termination of plans, the courts allow it, caving in to the forces garnered to reinvigorate a failing company. Unions are often compelled to choose between the financial welfare of retirees and jobs for active workers.
Pension Dumping explains in shocking detail how terminating the pension plan became a knee-jerk strategy for bankrupt companies that hope to attract big investors to help them reorganize.
Hawthorne traces the dynamics and the players involved as a pension is targeted for termination:
- thebankruptcy court and the hierarchy of power that dictates whose interests will prevail
- the choices forced on unions
- the burden placed on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
- the risks investors take and the returns they look for
- the companies’ efforts to salvage what they can as they restructure, as well as the backlash they risk by breaking pension promises
In 2008, Pension Dumping was cited in testimony before a Congressional committee investigating bankruptcies in relation to pensions.