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Congressman Kucinich believes it is vital that the pensions of working people be protected. It is unacceptable for corporations to neglect and underfund employee pension plans or attempt to renegotiate plans. Corporations must be held accountable for the promises made to workers. Workers must feel secure about their pensions. 

Administrative Law Judges

Socially Responsible Investing

Pension Reform

Government Pension Offset(GPO)/Windfall Elimination Provision(WEP)

Airline Pensions

The Fight to Protect Workers’ Pensions at Lakewood Manufacturing Co.

Other Accomplishments 

View press releases and related documents on pensions

Administrative Law Judges

The Social Security Administration disability backlog exceeds 750,000 cases. SSA has hired and is training 135 administrative law judges (ALJs) and is in the process of implementing a comprehensive backlog response plan; however SSA continues to face challenges in creating a robust and highly talented ALJ corps. To address this problem, Congressman Kucinich introduced H.R. 6706, the bipartisan Administrative Law Judge Retirement Act. ALJs adjudicate cases and claims that affect the lives of millions of Americans, on topics as diverse as agriculture, banking, energy, labor, transportation, Medicare, and social security.

H.R. 6706 would provide retirement benefits for ALJs that are similar to the enhanced benefits provided to other federal employee groups, including Congressional staff and Members of Congress. ALJs currently accrue benefits at a lower rate than other federal employees. Congressman Kucinich’s bill corrects this inequity and provides ALJs the same enhanced annual pension benefit accrual rates as other Federal employee groups with federal annuities.

Socially Responsible Investing

Congressman Kucinich believes that if we are to build a more peaceful and equitable society that benefits all citizens, then the investments we make must reflect our values. We may have avoided out current financial situation if investors followed these guidelines. Congressman Kucinich supports socially responsible investment (SRI) as a more effective and just manner of investing, and as a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform he has fought for SRI investment options in government retirement plans, including writing a letter to Chairman Henry Waxman advocating for socially responsible investment options for the Thrift Savings Plan.

Pension Reform

Congressman Kucinich is a strong supporter protecting workers pensions and preserving the defined benefit pension system. As a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Congressman has advocated and worked to protect workers. During the Committee’s markup of pension reform, with this goal in mind, Congressman Kucinich offered an amendment to restore shutdown benefits and protect workers from having their pension plans frozen.

Read Congressman Kucinich’s floor statement regarding the passage of the Pension Protection Act of 2005

Government Pension Offset/Windfall Elimination Provision

Congressman Kucinich has been a strong supporter of reform of the GPO and the WEP. The Congressman has consistently cosponsored GPO reform legislation and WEP reform legislation and will continue to support such bills. Under the current law, if you receive a public pension (because you worked for a government agency or were a teacher) and your spouse, who received Social Security, dies, you are not entitled to keep all of your spouse's Social Security benefit. Similarly, if you have worked in your career for both the government (and receive a government pension) and you also worked in the private sector and were covered by Social Security, you cannot keep all of both benefits. That is called the Government Pension Offset, and it subtracts two-thirds of the value of your pension from the Social Security benefit. Also under the current law, if you receive a public pension (because you worked for a government agency or were a teacher) and qualify for Social Security, you are not entitled to keep all of your Social Security benefit. That is called the Windfall Elimination Provision, and it reduces the value of your Social Security benefit. Congressman Kucinich cosponsored legislation that would increase the amount of the Social Security benefit individuals are allowed to keep. This legislation would repeal both the GPO and WEP.

Airline Pensions

Congressman Kucinich, along with over 130 of his colleagues, sent a letter to United Airlines Chairman, Glen Tilton, urging him to reconsider the company’s decision to slash promised medical benefits for United Airlines retirees, in February of 2004. The Congressman also cosponsored legislation to assist the airline industry in strengthening the pension plans of its workers. 

The Fight to Protect Workers’ Pensions at Lakewood Manufacturing Co.

Congressman Kucinich believes every worker has a fundamental right to financial security during his or her retirement. He has been a vigilant supporter of workers’ pension rights both on a national and local level.

Responding to a constituent concern regarding the handling of the pension plan at Lakewood Manufacturing in Westlake, Ohio, Congressman Kucinich initiated an investigation into the fund. The investigation uncovered that workers at Lakewood Manufacturing had not received documentation of their plan performance in five years. In addition, there was evidence that workers’ pensions had been grossly mismanaged by the plan’s administrator, leading to a severe depletion of the fund’s value.

As a result, the Congressman called on the Department of Labor to expedite an investigation into the management of the pension fund and prosecute all wrongdoing. On December 18, 2002, the Department of Labor filed a formal civil complaint charging Lakewood Manufacturing with breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA, the law that governs the handling of pension plans, using much of what Congressman Kucinich has uncovered as evidence.

Though the case is still pending, Congressman Kucinich continues to investigate the Lakewood Manufacturing pension plan and has pledged to ensure that the workers have their pensions restored to the fullest extent possible.

As of late 2003, it is hoped and expected that the former Lakewood workers will have their pension funds restored to their former value. This is a great victory for the Lakewood employees, but Rep. Kucinich has also used the case to highlight the fact that although they may have been eclipsed by the high profile pension scandals at large corporations such as Enron, WorldCom, and Global Crossing, thousands of other employees around the country have been no less harmed by gross fiduciary malfeasance at smaller companies. In many ways Lakewood’s former employees faced a financial future no different than that of Enron’s employees.

Congressman Kucinich was especially concerned that in the case of Lakewood Manufacturing, the Department of Labor (DOL) failed to investigate questionable transactions by the fiduciary of the plan, even though the company failed to file the most basic plan summary document required, Form 5500, for three consecutive years.

Congressman Kucinich has noted that Form 5500 is the only formal avenue for the DOL to monitor compliance with ERISA, the major federal law that protects workers’ pensions. Yet as the Lakewood case highlights, and a GAO report has confirmed, ERISA enforcement is such that fiduciaries of small plans may simply fail to file a 5500 while mismanaging or stealing money from a plan, knowing they will likely slip through the cracks of enforcement.

As a result, the Congressman introduced the ERISA Reporting and Compliance Act, HR 2084, legislation to further protect workers’ pensions. HR 2084 requires plans to submit 5500 Forms within 3 months of the end of the plan year – not the 9.5 months as is allowed in current law. It also insists that the first priority of the DOL should be to identify those companies that have not filed their documents by the deadline, and gives them the power to freeze assets of the plan fiduciary until the documents are submitted while the plan is thoroughly investigated.

Congressman Kucinich believes the most fundamental tool of ERISA compliance must function as it originally intended: to protect workers’ pensions. HR 2084 closes a fundamental gap in ERISA enforcement to do just that.

Other Accomplishments

In 2001, Congressman Kucinich offered two amendments to H.R. 10, the Portman-Cardin Pension Reform bill during the Education and Workforce Committee markup. The first amendment would help workers gain more information about their pension plans, empower them to make good decisions about their plans, and better secure their retirement funds. The second amendment would increase the amount of benefits that are guaranteed by the federal insurance plan, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, if a company is faced with bankruptcy. Congressman Kucinich is also an original cosponsor of a bill, H.R. 2134, to accomplish this same goal.

In 2000, Congressman Kucinich worked in a bipartisan coalition to halt the conversion of employee benefit plans to cash balance pensions. Congressman Kucinich participated in a rally of IBM employees at the IBM shareholder meeting in Cleveland on April 25, 2000. Congressman Kucinich cosponsored a successful amendment to the Treasury, Postal appropriation bill that will protect workers from conversion of their pensions to cash balance plans. The Congressman had earlier cosponsored legislation to protect middle age workers from the effects of cash balance pension conversions. HR 2902 would ensure that workers do not lose the pension benefits they have earned when their employer shifts its method of calculating benefit amounts.

Congressman Kucinich has also been a strong supporter of pension reforms, such as the government pension offset and the windfall elimination provision, and of reforming Section 415(b) limitations. Section 415 of the Internal Revenue Code puts an unreasonable limit on the amount certain retirees can receive from their pensions. In the formula imposed by this law, many retirees, especially union retirees in the building and construction trades, are denied the full benefits their unions negotiated and for which their employers saved. This limitation was reformed in 2000 by HR 1102, which Congress passed on July 19. Congressman Kucinich voted in favor of the bill.


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