Reps plan renewed push on bill to restore lost Delphi pension benefits

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington ― U.S. House lawmakers reintroduced legislation this week aiming to make whole a group of former Delphi Corp. salaried employees who had their pensions clipped as a precondition of General Motors Corp.'s federally induced bankruptcy.

The bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support last year, stalled in the Senate amid resistance last session. U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and Michael Turner, R-Ohio, said in a joint call Thursday that they're determined to press forward until the legislation is adopted.

The exterior of the Delphi Corp. headquarters is shown in Troy.

"The Delphi salaried retirees haven't given up. We take strength from them. They worked for now going on 14 years to get these benefits restored," Kildee said. "Last year, we came closer than ever to getting these really important retirement benefits restored and righting this wrong."

Turner suggested that new procedural rules in effect under the now Republican-controlled House might make it easier to pass the bill in that chamber and move it to the Senate, where they're working to educate senators about the unique circumstances of the 20,000 affected Delphi salaried retirees, including 6,000 in Michigan.

"We are just a few short senators away from getting this bill through the Senate. With the Delphi salaried retirees' advocacy, I believe that momentum will be on our side," Turner said, adding that the bill also has the support of President Joe Biden.

"We're going to work diligently to try to get this bill back out of the House again and over to the Senate, and then to try to persuade our fellow senators that this bill is paid for, this bill is rectifying an injustice, and these retirees earned these benefits."

The Delphi retirees had turned to lawmakers on Capitol Hill after the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago declined to hear the retirees' case, letting stand a ruling by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholding the government termination of their pension plans.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, reintroduced legislation seeking to restore pensions for former Delphi Corp. whose pensions were clipped in General Motors Corp.'s 2009 bankruptcy.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the legislation would cost $912 million over 10 years. The bill would be paid for not with taxpayer dollars but within the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the government-owned pension insurer.

The Delphi retirees' lawsuit dated to 2009. As GM went through a quick-exit bankruptcy in 2009, the decision was made to "top up" the pensions of most union Delphi hourly workers and retirees — largely those of the United Auto Workers — to the full amount promised by GM. 

GM did not do the same for 20,000 salaried retirees and pension participants at Delphi, a former GM subsidiary that was spun off in 1999 and which filed for bankruptcy in 2005. GM later told a 2011 government audit that it made the call "because of its dependence" on the UAW union. 

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. then terminated the Delphi salaried employees' plan and has since been paying retirement benefits to the former plan participants out of its insurance funds.

Some pensioners and other plan participants lost as much as 70% of their vested benefits. Al Gerwin of Saginaw, a 41-year employee of GM and Delphi forced to retire in 2008, said Thursday that he'd lost 30% of his pension and his health and life insurance plans.

"I applaud our government's overwhelming commitment to fiscal conservatism, but still respectfully ask again to support and vote for the Susan Muffley Act," Gerwin said. "This truly bipartisan bill will correct and terrible government injustice."

Al Gerwin of Saginaw was a 41-year employee of General Motors and Delphi who saw his pension cut by 30%.

The bill calls for moving up the adjustable interest rate payment date that employers make to the PBGC, which would produce a surplus that would be used to make the Delphi workers whole.

Beneficiaries who already are receiving benefits would receive a lump sum payment of the difference between what was paid by PGBC and would have been paid without the statutory limitations, plus 6% interest, according to a bill summary.

Turner didn't anticipate that the House would hold hearings again on the Delphi salaried retirees' situation, noting past hearings that established a record in Congress, as well as an Inspector General's report that "clearly related that these pensions were canceled as a result of government intervention."

He noted a House GOP rule that allows for members to take measures to the floor as amendments to other bills. "That gives us a procedural opportunity to be able to move this bill without having to go through all of the committee processes again," Turner said.