New Retiree-Friendly Federal Legislation Would Help Protect Earned Benefits

Two New Actions on Capitol Hill Give Retirees Hope

Two new pieces of federal legislation have stirred hope for some 44 million American workers and retirees worried about having their earned healthcare or pension benefits modified or even terminated.

The recently introduced Employee Benefits Protection Act (H.R.5523) and the Bankruptcy Fairness and Employee Benefits Protection Act (S.2418) are bills that propose to safeguard retirees’ earned benefits by making it more difficult for employers to make changes to its employee’s healthcare and defined benefit pension plans.

Leading national retiree healthcare advocacy group ProtectSeniors.Org has been battling on the frontline of Capitol Hill to help introduce bi-partisan legislation that would provide protections for retirees’ earned benefits.

“The introduction of this legislation is a great win for the millions of retirees who are worried about the security of their benefits,” said Jim Casey, President of the Washington D.C.-based ProtectSeniors.Org.

The group recently released a video, “Let’s Win Retiree Benefit Protections!”, on their YouTube channel outlining how both H.R.5523 and S.2418 would provide legal protections retirees seek.

November 2014

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ERISA Champion Passes Away

Robert Nagle, a driving force behind the drafting and eventual enactment of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), passed away on August 16, 2014, at the age of 84. ERISA is the federal legislation that millions of seniors rely on for pension protection. Mr. Nagle, as a general counsel for the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, played a key role in drafting sections of ERISA. He later carried out ERISA’s insurance program as Executive Director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation from 1979 to 1982.

He worked closely with the late Michael S. Gordon, another major player in the passage of ERISA and who was legislative counsel to the Association of BellTel Retirees Inc. Mr. Nagle was a Michael S. Gordon Fellow at the Pension Rights Center.

Norman Stein, the Pension Rights Center’s policy advisor said, “There were few people in our field as knowledgeable or as wise as Bob, and no one ever had a kinder heart. He was a gentle man and a good man in every sense of those words and will be deeply missed by all who had the very great privilege of working with him. It’s a loss personally and a loss to the whole retirement community.”

Photo Courtesy: Pension & Investments Online

September 2014

Some 40,000 seniors hailed in Vatican City

Pope Francis has long implored people to respect and honor aging members of society. Francis, 77, identifies old age as a “time of grace” as he continues to acknowledge the significant role of seniors throughout the world.

Francis has held numerous Vatican ceremonies and Masses for the aging to honor grandparents and their contributions to society. During the most recent gathering in September 2014, he recognized and warmly embraced his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, 87, who arrived to the ceremony with a cane.

“I have said many times that it gives me great pleasure that he lives here in the Vatican, because it is like having a wise grandfather at home,” said Pope Francis about the former pope living in papal retirement at the Vatican Covent.

Even before elected as Pope, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio acknowledged the elderly in his book On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st Century, originally published in 2010. In the book, he highlights how the elderly are often forgotten despite being at an age where it is vital to preserve memories by passing them onto the next generation.

September 2014


When Dennis Rocheleau negotiated against General Electric’s unions ten years ago, he proposed benefit cuts so deep it caused the company to have its first strike in 30 years.

Now a retiree himself, Mr. Rocheleau, a former labor chief negotiator at GE has turned the tables and is fighting to convince members of the G.E. board and its top executives to preserve health care benefits that current employees and retirees will lose in 2015.

According to Bloomberg News, he publicly addressed GE CEO Jeffery Immelt at an annual shareowners meeting in 2013, saying the company would be 

defaulting on obligations to employees and turn its back on time-honored traditions.

“I always maintained that at GE, promises made were promises kept. What’s so difficult to deal with is that now it turns out that’s not always the case,” said Rocheleau.

Many of GE’s current healthcare options, that are aimed to supplement Medicare plans, will be closed for new entrants on January 1, 2015. The company will also restrict retiree life insurance provided by GE. The cut is estimated to affect the eligibility of 65,000 retirees and their spouses/dependents.

The move is expected to save a total of $832 million in future retiree obligations for GE.

“They’re saving millions of dollars and the people they’re taking it from are the ones who can afford it the least,” Rocheleau said.

According to Bloomberg, Mr. Rocheleau said in a written document to GE that GE retirees felt it “improperly stripped them of something of substantial value that they believed they earned over a career. Without a comprehensive re-examination of this issue, I am dedicated to escalating it as much as I intellectually and financially can.”

To replace the coverage, GE is putting retirees in touch with insurance brokers so they can purchase private plans. Costs, however, are expected to soar for those in poor health and high cost areas.  

According to Steve Blakely, managing editor of the nonpartisan research group Employee Benefits Research Group, low interest rates have made companies put a much larger amount of money into retirees’ pension and healthcare funds to guarantee their benefits.

“Companies have seen their pension costs explode,” Blakely said which has led to a “financial climate that is extremely stressful to employers with pensions.”

In the recent years, other major companies such as Liberty Mutual, automakers Honda, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Chrysler; Time Warner, and computer giant IBM have cut retirees benefits.

General Electric’s  total revenue for the year of 2013 was 147 billion. 

Winter 2013-2014

artwork courtesy of wikimedia commons