2010 NCRO Washington Trip

Trip Report – NRLN Conference 2010

Attendees from the NCRO:
Chuck Austin – President
Mike Kane – Vice President
Chris Dyrda – Vice President
Stan Hurst – Director
Rich Brown – Insurance Committee
Dates:
January 11, 2010 through January 13,2010
Purpose:
The purpose of the trip was to attend the NRLN Board Meeting, attend the NRLN conference, and visit members of Congress, with the NRLN agenda.

Report:
NCRO attendees flew into Baltimore, taking buses and taxis where feasible to save cost.  The hotel and travel expenses were paid by NCRO. On the afternoon of the 11th the NRLN held it’s annual Board Meeting. New Board members, Chris Dyrda from the NCRO and John Christie from GMRA, the GM Retirees Organization were welcomed. NRLN’s budget was approved.

Special projects to create white papers, which will be taken to congress to propose legislation to protect pensions in bankruptcy and in mergers and acquisitions by foreign companies, were approved.

Bob Foresta, NRLN Vice President, presented the Legislative agenda. Ed Beltrum, NRLN Vice President, reported a 38% growth in grass root members. Over one million CapWiz emails were sent in 2009. Bob, Martina, NRLN Vice President, reported grass root coverage of 96% of states and 56% coverage of congressional districts by members. He appealed for more participation. Daniel Lindblad reported that NRLN sponsored insurance plans are in place for health care, life, annuity and casualty plans.

The conference was held on the 12th from 9:00 a.m. until approximately 5:00 p.m. with reception and dinner afterward. The conference agenda and notes:

Opening & Review of 2009 – Challenge for 2010 – Bill Kadereit
Bill appealed for individual memberships in the NRLN. Much of the operating funds come from individual memberships. NRLN now has 32 sponsoring organizations.
Attendees to the conference included members from:
NCRO, National Chrysler Retirement Organization
GMRA, General Motors Retiree Association
DP-3, Delta Pilots
ACER, AT&T
LRO, Lucent Retirees Organization
DEAR, Detroit Edison
AUSWR, Southwest Retirees
Quest
AASBC, SBC Retirees
EKRA, Kodak retirees
ARR
FRO
Telco
The conference notes are available here in PDF format

Introduction of Guests and Panels – Marta Bascom & Michael Calabrese
Marta Bascom is the Executive Director of the NRLN and it’s chief lobbyist.  Michael Calabrese is NRLN’s Legal Counsel and white paper consultant.

Department of Labor – Hillary Duke and Florence Novalino
The Department of Labor speakers were from the office of Employee Benefits Security Administration, EBSA.This agency oversees and protects health and defined pension plans. Currently they oversee 700,000 pension plan, and 2,800,000 health plans for 150 million Americans with assets of $7 trillion. In 2008 assets in defined pension plans fell by 28% because of the bad economy.
More information is available on DOL.gov/EBSA

Diane Oakley, from the legislative staff of Representative Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota.
Currently the Pomeroy bill, HR 3936 is in process, which would preserve benefits and promote jobs by allowing employers pension-funding relief. It would defer funding requirements up to 9 years. However, NRLN is working to include in the Bill the prevention of using pension assets for early buyouts and prevent raiding by executive pension plans.

PBGC – Michael Rae and  Amy Wiener
In 2009 the PBGC took over 150 terminated pension plans, 40 large plans. This is 200,000 new participants. Delphi plans were included in those with 20,000 salaried participants. The PBGC now pays out benefits to 700,000 pensioners. Their liabilities exceed their assets by $22 billion.
The participants tried to understand some of the rules that the PBGC uses to determine benefits. NRLN is currently working on a white paper to make recommendations for rule changes and enforcement authority.

On the Hill – 2009 in Perspective and What to expect in 2010 – Marta and Michael
Much of the discussion centered on what is in the Health Care Bill.  Congress is consumed by activities on this.  Once the health care legislation is resolved pensions and benefits will get more attention.

2010 Legislative Agenda:
Overview and Major Initiatives Summaries – Bob Foresta
2010 TOP INITIATIVES
PENSION ASSET PROTECTION (PAP):
The NRLN advocates legislation that stops corporations from taking pension assets from defined pension plan trusts to pay for lump sum severance and early retirement incentives. The NRLN advocates that pension funds not be used to pay executive non-qualified pensions and other deferred compensation. The NRLN advocates that pension plan assets should not be transferred to or be taken over by third party financial or other institutions.

PBGC REFORM:
The NRLN advocates that the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation must be regulated to ensure equitable calculations of benefit payments earned by retirees.

BANKRUPTCY REFORM:
The NRLN advocates that bankruptcy reform is needed to place retirees' pensions and benefits on a list of obligations that companies can't shed. Retirees often lose pension, health care, and other benefits and, unlike secured creditors, rarely have the ability to recover losses.

PROTECTION AND ENHANCEMENT OF RETIREE HEALTH CARE BENEFITS:
MAINTENANCE OF COST PAYMENT:

The NRLN advocates a Maintenance of Cost† Payment (MCP) proposal that would establish a fixed monthly payment to retirees equivalent to the value an employer provided prior to the reduction or cancellation of retirement health care, prescription drugs, life insurance, long-term care or other benefits. Companies would be entitled to tax credits as an offset to MCP payments.

MEDICARE BUY-IN FOR AGES 55-64:
The NRLN advocates that adults age 55 to 64 be allowed to buy Medicare coverage at a cost that does not burden the Medicare system. Access could be limited to individuals without access to an employer-sponsored or other group health plan that is actuarially equivalent or superior to Medicare.

INCLUSION OF CATASTROPHIC COVERAGE IN MEDICARE:
The NRLN advocates that Congress should extend protection against catastrophic medical costs to the Medicare population by setting a reasonable maximum limit on out-of-pocket costs.

PROTECT RETIREES IN MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS:
The NRLN advocates law that clarifies what a parent foreign owner's pension plan obligations are to abide by ERISA should its U.S. subsidiary be spun off or dissolved. Clarification must include situations where foreign corporations that own U.S. subsidiaries are also acquired by a third party, foreign-owned corporation.

REDUCE THE COST OF PRESCRIPTION DRUGS:
The NRLN advocates the reduction of prescription drug costs for Americans through passage of legislation that: (1) Enables re-importation and importation of safe prescription drugs approved by the FDA; (2) Enables Medicare to develop formularies and take competitive bids for prescription drugs; (3) Staffs and funds the FDA to reduce the generic drug approval backlog; (4) Prevents drug companies from colluding to control pricing or subvert free market practices.

PROTECT MEDICARE:
The NRLN advocates that Congress must guard against reductions in Medicare expenditures that negatively impact the care that retirees receive from doctors, hospitals and other health care services.

PROTECT SOCIAL SECURITY:
† The NRLN advocates legislation to make Social Security financially sound without reducing current and future retiree benefits.

Bankruptcy and PBGC Reform – Will Buergey, Michael and Marta
40% to 45% of Delta Pilot pensions were lost when the PBGC took over those pensions. The attendees agreed to delve into the rule making authority and interpretation of pension payouts.

HCAC – MCP, Catastrophic, under age 65 buy-in; Michael and Marta
Much of the emphasis of NRLN’s lobbying activity is to keep congress aware of the need to maintain COBRA coverage, healthcare tax credits and maintenance of cost payments by companies. Early retirees are hit especially hard by loss of health care.

NPAC – PAP and M&A / Foreign Ownership – Frank Minter, Michael and Marta
Concern was expressed and action called out to give the PBGC and the Department of Labor more authority to enforce funding and oversight of pension and health care plans assumed by foreign acquisitions. Right now the PBGC has little leverage with foreign corporations. Funding is being sought for a white paper with recommendations.

Grassroots Planning and Staffing – Bob Martina
Capwiz Goals, Issues and Plans and Media and Administration – Ed Beltram
Lobby Day Orientation – Joe Dombrowski, Marta Bascom, Bob Foresta

The 13th was spent going to congressional offices.


Attendees met with Harold Chase from Senator Carl Levin’s office.


Mike Kane, Chris Dyrda and Chuck Austin met with Representative Gary Peters, second from the right.

Meetings were also held with the legislative aids from the offices of Senator Debbi Stabenaw, Congressman Mike Rogers, and Congressman Bert Stupak. Mike Kane, Rich Brown and Chris Dyrda attended a special meeting with the legislative aids from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the special bankruptcy sub-committee. We made these aids aware of how little representation salaried retirees get in bankruptcy. Often bankruptcy judges refuse to appoint committee representation because of the Reservation of Rights clause in retirement packages. Retirees, we stated, can’t even get a list of retirees, nor are they given time to fund and seek legal counsel.

Follow up meetings will be planned.

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