Trump Admin. To Look Into Restoring Delphi Retiree Pensions

Law360 (October 22, 2020, 7:54 PM EDT) -- President Donald Trump issued a memo Thursday directing his administration to look into whether any action can be taken to help about 20,000 Delphi Corp. retirees who saw their pensions cut by between 30% and 70% a decade ago.

The memo, issued less than two weeks before the U.S. presidential election, directs the Commerce, Labor and Treasury departments to look into what the government can do to "address affected Delphi retirees' lost pension benefits," including finding out if it's possible to reverse the 2009 cuts.

The memo also tells the agencies to do what they can to "bring additional transparency" to the decade-old deals between auto parts maker Delphi, General Motors and the federal government's pension agency that led to the cuts, which happened while Delphi was engaged in bankruptcy proceedings. The memo gives the agencies three months to complete those two tasks.

The memo ends by encouraging the agencies to propose legislation to prop up the nation's struggling multiemployer pension plans, which are in danger of losing their federal safety net within five years and paring down benefits before that. The memo places a six-month timeline on accomplishing that directive.

Trump's Thursday evening tweet about the memo nods to its election-time nature, framing the action as evidence of his administration's continued advocacy for American workers, who he said the Obama-Biden administration "failed."

Lawmakers' initial response to the memo was split along party lines. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, praised the action on behalf of 5,000 Ohioan Delphi retirees who "deserve to have their pensions restored."

"I have fought for years to help these Delphi retirees receive the pension and health care benefits they have earned after getting a raw deal from the Obama administration," Portman said. "Today's news means they are one step closer to seeing their pension benefits reinstated, and I'm pleased the president took action to help them."

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., criticized the section of the memo directing the administration to propose solutions to the pension funding crisis. He said Congress already tried and failed to solve that problem on Trump's watch, with the House's proposed solution tanking because Republicans wouldn't agree to it.

"After nearly four years in office and less than two weeks before the election, the White House finally woke up to the reality that there's a multiemployer pensions crisis," Scott said. "Unfortunately, instead of championing the responsible solution in the House-passed Heroes Act, the White House decided this issue deserves further study. That is simply unacceptable."

Michael Gwin, a spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, called the memo "a half-hearted promise to look into a solution" for the Delphi retirees that came after Trump "wasted four years failing to act to protect their pensions." Gwin said Biden would also take action to protect the Delphi retirees and solve the pension funding crisis if elected.

The Delphi retirees have been fighting in court to restore their full pensions for 10 years. They lost at the Sixth Circuit in September.

--Editing by Aaron Pelc.

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