Delphi retirees get Congressional boost in pursuit of restored pensions

Retirees from auto parts-maker Delphi who saw their pensions cut after the 2009 federal bailout of carmakers are drawing more support of their request for the U.S. Supreme Court to restore their promised payments in full.

After setbacks in other venues, the Delphi Salaried Retirees Association petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse the cuts imposed by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. Now 17 members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, have filed an amicus brief backing the retirees’ request.

Close to 5,200 affected retirees live in Ohio, with about a third of them in Turner’s 10th District, according to his communications director MacKenzie Morales. The 10th District includes Montgomery, Greene and Fayette counties.

U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson — a Troy Republican who represents all of Clark, Miami, Butler and Preble counties and part of Mercer County — also has signed on to the brief.

Rose said 1,500 to 2,000 former salaried workers live in the Dayton region. Indiana, New York and other states are also home to many DSRA members.

“The Delphi salaried retirees deserve the full value of the retirement benefits promised to them after decades of honest work,” Turner said in a news release.

The brief is co-signed by 15 other members of Congress, including fellow Ohio Republicans U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and U.S. Reps. Steve Chabot and Bill Johnson; Democratic Ohio U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan; and three Democratic and eight Republican representatives from eight other states.

It was followed by another amicus brief from the National Retiree Legislative Network, and several state attorneys general — including Ohio and Michigan — are expected to file supporting briefs of their own, according to Tom Rose a Dayton-area DSRA board member.

In addition, members of Congress may act on their own, particularly U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Michigan, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee.

“They’ve actually drafted legislative language,” Rose said. The DSRA is working with Kildee’s staff on a proposal that could be attached to another bill, he said.

Morales said Turner is “continuing to explore potential solutions” with Kildee and Ryan.

Steve Irwin, press secretary for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, confirmed Tuesday that Yost’s office intends to file a supporting brief but declined to provide further details. Wednesday is the cutoff date to file amicus briefs in the case, Rose said.

If the Supreme Court grants a writ of certiorari — meaning it will review the case — the Delphi pension fund would be assigned to a future docket, Morales said.

Dayton parts manufacturer Delphi spun off from General Motors in 1999. Delphi, today renamed Aptiv, filed for bankruptcy in October 2005. At the time it had separate defined-benefit plans for nonunion salaried employees and unionized hourly workers.

General Motors, which contributed to the pension fund, itself filed for bankruptcy during the Great Recession in 2009. As part of negotiations for the company to receive a $49.5 billion bailout from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, representatives of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. and the Treasury Department’s “Auto Team” required that the pension funds be turned over to the PBGC. Those bankruptcy negotiations, which usually take years, were done in just 44 days, Rose said.

Unionized hourly employees continued receiving their full pensions, but more than 20,000 salaried retirees took major cuts — from 30% to 70%, he said.

“This is why we have said for years that we are fighting to regain our stolen pensions,” said Mary Miller, a DSRA board member from the Dayton area.

Those retirees filed suit against the PBGC seeking restoration of their original benefit agreement. In March 2019, a Michigan federal court dismissed the lawsuit, and that dismissal was upheld by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Turner’s office said he worked with then-President Donald Trump on a presidential memorandum in 2020 ordering the PBGC to explain the disparity in treatment between the pension funds and find a path to restore the salaried retirees’ benefits. The PBGC refused to respond, according to Turner’s office.

After 30 members of Congress prodded the Treasury Department, it responded with a one-page letter saying the PBGC’s three directors had made no move because they concluded, “Congressional action would be required to restore these lost pensions.”

Bankruptcy negotiators alleged the salaried pension fund was only 47% funded in 2009, but since then the IRS and a third-party actuary have agreed its actual funding level is 87%, Rose said. The fund was frozen in October 2008, preventing it from taking on any more payment liabilities, he said.

The frozen pension benefits stood at $521 million in 2009, but would be worth much more if allowed to grow over the last 12 years, Morales said.

Since the pension fund’s investments have risen with a dramatic increase in the stock market, it should be more than fully funded today, Rose said. The Dow Jones average has seen a nearly sixfold increase.

“Nonetheless, the PBGC alleges they need money,” Rose said.

Turner has been the DSRA’s most consistent supporter, Rose said.

“That support all these years has meant a great deal to the DSRA,” Miller said.

About the Author