Delphi retirees still fighting for pensions

Dayton-area Delphi salaried retirees (from left), Tom Rose, Mary Miller, Marlane Bengry and Tom Green, standing on the foundation of the former Delphi Wisconsin Boulevard plant in Dayton. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
Dayton-area Delphi salaried retirees (from left), Tom Rose, Mary Miller, Marlane Bengry and Tom Green, standing on the foundation of the former Delphi Wisconsin Boulevard plant in Dayton. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

For almost eight years, some 20,000 salaried retirees of auto parts manufacturer Delphi have sued a federal agency to restore their full pensions.

Today, Washington Twp. resident Tom Rose, 71, and his fellow local Delphi retirees believe they might be 63 government documents away from a breakthrough in their hard-fought legal case.

So far in the case, attorneys for the retirees have received or uncovered some 1,200 U.S. Treasury documents related to the pensions. Today, the retirees look to the U.S. Court of Appeals for resolution on a remaining 63 documents they say Treasury has blocked from release.

“When the truth emerges, they’re done,” said Rose, a 31-year veteran of Delphi.

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“Every time a judge has had to rule (in this case), they don’t rule against us,” said Dayton-area Delphi salaried retiree Mary Miller, 67.

Then-bankrupt Delphi surrendered its pension obligations to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. in 2009.

The PBGC follows a complex formula to determine how much of a once-private pension to pay. That formula has resulted in lower pension payments for Delphi retirees. In Rose’s case, for example, he initially lost about 40 percent of what he expected his full pension to be, but after a recent PBGC re-calculation, today he is receiving closer to 30 percent.

General Motors — which once owned Delphi — years ago agreed to “top off” or supplement pensions for retirees represented by unions, even though GM wasn’t legally required to do that after its own trip through bankruptcy in 2009.

The salaried retirees have never begrudged their union counterparts their full pensions. They say they simply want their own pensions.

A message seeking comment was sent to representatives of the PBGC, which is the only defendant in the case.

Most of the affected retirees live in four states — Ohio, Michigan, New York and Indiana.

Rose and his allies in the case have estimated that about 6,000 of those retirees live in Ohio. And they estimate that the biggest contingent of Ohio retirees live in and around Dayton, maybe 2,000 or so.

It’s unclear whether this issue has a legislative remedy.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown has introduced legislation that would allow the Treasury Department to sell bonds to beef up ailing union pensions. The Democrat is leading a bi-partisan congressional commission exploring ways to assist those pensions.

Asked if salaried retirees might benefit from similar legislation, Brown’s office released a statement agreeing that Delphi retirees deserve their pensions and “financial security.”

“While we await a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals on the status of their pensions, there are steps we can take in the meantime to support these retirees, including my work with Sen. (Rob) Portman to secure health care coverage for Delphi retirees and their families,” Brown’s statement said. “I continue to stand with the thousands of Ohioans fighting for the retirement benefits they were promised.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, has been a supporter of the salaried retirees from the start of their case.

“I have been urging the Trump administration to take action to finally settle this matter,” Turner said in a statement. “These 20,000 people deserve answers about what happened in the government bailout under (President Barack) Obama. I will continue to work with the Trump administration to conclude this important issue.”

Retiree Marlane Bengry, 68, marvels at how she and her fellow retirees have refused to give up.

“My taxes are going to the government to fight us,” Bengry said.

Rose declined to say exactly how much retirees have paid their attorneys on the legal case, but said it has been “millions” of dollars.

“They’re waiting for us to run out of money, give up, die or otherwise go away,” Rose said.

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