Summary of Bob Patrician talk on pensions 9/9/20 to 1101-1105 RMC Meeting
Bob worked in the research department of CWA for many years and in the IUE before that (IUE merged into CWA in 2000). He was the liaison to the retirees when he retired.
The most important information he gave us is that our pension is safe and sound. Our pension meets the requirements of ERISA, the federal law that governs pensions. The information about the pension is contained in a mailing we receive every year from Verizon (which most of us probably throw away). An annual report on the pension is an IRS requirement for employers. As of January, 2019 the total assets of the Verizon pension fund were around $14 billion.
The second important information he gave us is that we are the only bargaining unit in CWA, and one of the very few in the US, with wording in our contract that gives the union the right to bargain over retiree health benefits. Legally, employers are not required to bargain over retiree issues so without this language we could have lost our health benefits. However, the company has not been willing to discuss increasing the pension for people who are already retired and he doesn’t expect this to change.
In response to questions, Bob explained that the although CWA does not have a formal oversight role in the pension fund, the union does keep track of what is happening with the pension and has now intervened in bankruptcy court to protect Frontier retirees’ pensions. CWA also convinced Nokia, which had bought Lucent, to use their overfunded pension fund to continue retiree health care.
He also answered a question on whether Verizon can borrow from the pension. The answer is no. Pension assets can only be used for retiree benefits. In the past, the Verizon pension fund was often overfunded but this has decreased due to people taking cash buyouts. Also, when Verizon bought GTE and other telecommunications companies, some of those pension trusts were somewhat underfunded, so when the trusts were combined, the funding level went to slightly under 90%. This is still considered a safe level so it is not a cause for concern.