December 08, 2010

West Virginians Deserve Their Pensions Protected

From Senator Joe Manchin's Desk: A Message About Pensions

This week, I attended my first Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee meeting. This committee addresses polices relating to our country's health care, education, employment and retirement.
I had the opportunity to question Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) Director Joshua Gotbaum during a hearing on the future of the PBGC, which is a federal corporation created by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. PBGC protects the defined benefit pensions of nearly 229,900 workers and retirees living in the state. In addition, it has taken responsibility for 54 failed plans of state-based businesses.
I raised issues regarding those who have worked their entire lives only to find their company bankrupt and their pension severely devalued.  I explained that West Virginia is a hard working state, and we have a work ethic that is one of the best in the nation.  West Virginians give a lifetime of work, and they want to make sure they are able to have a pension that is rewarding to the work they have given.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t always happened.
In the hearing, I referenced and reflected on what happened when Weirton Steel filed for bankruptcy in 2003. I felt compelled to explain what a devastating situation Weirton Steel was and how it took such a tremendous toll on people’s lives.  I have a hard time understanding how a company can go through bankruptcy, is able to shed all its liabilities when it still has value and is then bought by another company that comes in and wipes the slate clean.  Those companies often leave people without the pensions they worked years for and were guaranteed.  The fact is that many West Virginians who worked at Weirton Steel were left with next to nothing.
I believe that it was important that the PBGC knew the facts and understood that these retirement pensions were substantially devalued after the bankruptcy when the PBGC moved in to take over the steelworker’s pensions. 
I asked an important question at this hearing: How do we prevent that from happening again?
In addition, I pointed out that additional work needs to be done on bankruptcy and pension reform to protect employees who are left in the cold.  Joshua Gotbaum volunteered to come to meet with me to further explore this issue. We cannot stop, we must constantly seek out ways to better protect our workers’ pensions and I pledge to continue to raise questions and demand changes that provide better safeguards.