The pension plan is supposed to represent a gold standard of collective bargaining that demonstrates the cooperation between labor unions and their employers to guarantee benefits and a comfortable retirement for the pension members. But does it?
For the most part, pension plans provide a reliable source of employee benefits that let beneficiaries easily retire after becoming fully vested.
However, because of declining union membership, poor management or both, many pension plans are having to decrease pension benefits to maintain the plan’s long-term financial viability, which is the duty of the plan trustees.
This duty also directly conflicts with the pension beneficiaries through reduced benefits and an inability to provide the retirement benefits negotiated by the unions.
A prime example of this is the Boilermaker-Blacksmith Pension Trust, which in 2017 was forced to make plan amendments that resulted in a 59% decrease in certain pension benefits, specifically the disability pension benefits. Because that decrease had a hard and fast date in becoming enacted, many pension beneficiaries lost over half of their disability benefits through no fault of their own.
Combined with the hard drop date of the application, the decrease in benefit also demonstrated that the pension trust, the entity that decides and pays benefits under the pension plan, did not always communicate proper information to its plan beneficiaries.
The benefit decrease further illustrated that the pension trust did not necessarily interpret the plan’s language in accordance with the governing federal law (ERISA), the related federal regulations or the plan itself. These faults in communication and interpretations of plan language resulted in the wrongful denial of disability pension benefits or a delay in applications that would have resulted in beneficiaries receiving benefits under the amended plan.
This all serves to show that even though the pension plan is a byproduct of cooperation between the union and employers, and that the plan’s managing trust comprises both union members and employers, actions intended to benefit the union as a whole can supersede and compromise the rights of union members.
If you have been denied a union pension benefit or are receiving less than you believe you are entitled to, ERISA and its corresponding federal regulations provide you with an internal appeal of that denial or benefit amount and create a cause of action to bring suit in federal court.
A lawyer with thorough knowledge of the ERISA regulations is a pivotal asset in determining whether a union pension trust has acted wrongly or failed to properly administer a claim for pension benefits.
Another example appears in the cause of Smarra v. Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
In that case, the court found that the pension trust breached the duties it owed to a beneficiary by not properly informing the beneficiary of his rights under the plan. That failure to communicate resulted in the pension beneficiary receiving a benefit with a starting date after the amendment that had reduced the disability pension benefit. If he had been properly informed, he could have had a pre-amendment benefit amount.
In situations such as these, a lawyer versed in ERISA can represent the difference between receiving the benefit you are entitled to or one that is reduced.
The ERISA lawyers at Gallagher Davis are currently challenging a similar failure to communicate by the Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ruessler v. Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust.
Oral arguments before the 8th Circuit were held in September, and we are now awaiting a decision. The questions concerning the 8th Circuit ERISA litigation involve whether the pension trust accurately interpreted the plan language and if the pension trust failed to properly communicate information about the pension plan to a plan beneficiary.
ERISA Lawyers & Employee Benefit Litigation: Contact Us Today
The seasoned ERISA lawyers at Gallagher Davis, LLP support union employees in the review, filing and appeal of wrongful denial of pension benefits.
With experience in all state and federal trial and appellate courts in the St. Louis metropolitan area, as well as throughout Missouri and the Midwest, our ERISA lawyers provide you with vigorous advocacy and representation in justly receiving benefits to which you are entitled.
If you have confronted a wrongful denial of pension benefits, contact us today at (314) 725-1780 to discuss whether you have a cause of action or if we can help you file an internal appeal of the denial.