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December 23, 2014

“Team Karen” recognized in Institutional Investor's Pension 40

Otherwise known as Karen Ferguson and Karen Friedman, “Team Karen” was featured in Institutional Investor magazine’s list of the Top 40 “most influential players in U.S. pensions.” Karen Ferguson, the Center’s director, and Karen Friedman, the Center’s executive vice president and policy director, were cited for being the first to “sound the alarm” on a variety of critical threats to retirement security, including pension de-risking, lump-sum buyouts, annuity transfers and pension freezes.

Pension Rights Center stands against retiree pension cuts

New fact sheet and calculator help certain retirees predict possible pension loss
PRC mounted an all-hands-on-deck effort to oppose provisions in the omnibus spending bill that allow certain multiemployer pension plans to cut retiree benefits. Nearly 60,000 e-mails opposing the provisions were sent to members of Congress through the Center's website. In a statement made after the bill was signed into law, Karen Friedman said “Congress has placed the burden of rescuing underfunded plans on the people who can least afford it -- retirees and surviving spouses who rely on their pensions for food, medication, and other necessities.” Center staff were quoted in more than 40 newspapers, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and Karen Friedman was interviewed by C-SPAN and NPR. Also, the Center has launched a story bank to capture the voices of retirees who will be harmed by this and other threats to their pensions.  

SPDs saved!

At the urging of the Pension Rights Center and the New England Pension Assistance Project, three government agencies have taken unprecedented actions to ensure that retirees needing documentation of their right to benefits will continue to have access to copies of important plan documents. Thousands of Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs) that had been filed with the Department of Labor between 1975 and 1991 have now been transferred to the National Archives. These SPDs can be critical in helping people prove that they are entitled to benefits. The transfer is the result of a two-year struggle, culminating in agreements by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the National Archives, and the Department of Labor. 

ERISA@40 Conference

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Pension Rights Center convened a day-long conference on the “Enforcement of ERISA Rights and Responsibilities.” The event brought together more than 100 litigators, advocates, and drafters of ERISA for a spirited discussion of recent Supreme Court decisions relating to the ability of workers to receive adequate remedies and the responsibilities of plan trustees. Attendees and the 21 law firms and organizations supporting the event were equally divided between those who represent pension plans and those who represent participants. Assistant Secretary of Labor Phyllis Borzi addressed the conferees at lunch. The conference concluded with an exploration of areas of possible common ground. 

More:  Conference summary and slide show | Video of Phyllis Borzi’s speech | List of Conference Sponsors | Agenda

Pension Rights Center weighs in on state-administered retirement plans
To assist state legislators as they consider adopting state-administered retirement plans for private-sector workers, PRC’s Karen Friedman and Norman Stein co-authored two papers for AARP’S new State Retirement Plans Resource Center. The papers analyze key considerations that would protect consumers and deliver secure benefits. One paper on consumer protections discusses mechanisms to ensure that workers’ money and rights are safeguarded, and the other describes the importance of pooled accounts in reducing both costs and risk in these plans. In addition, Karen Friedman addressed the first meeting of the Governor’s Task Force to Ensure Retirement Security for all Marylanders, where she discussed the retirement income crisis as well as state-based and national solutions. The Center applauds the Illinois state legislature for passing a bill creating the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program, which would establish a payroll-deduction IRA for workers whose employers do not offer another retirement savings vehicle.

Other goings-on
-- Karen Friedman has been on the road delivering speeches around the country. She spoke in Boston about the vulnerable economic conditions many vulnerable older women face as they begin their retirement years, and in Cleveland she addressed retired truck drivers and warehouse workers about possible legislation that could significantly reduce their pensions. Karen also spoke in Chicago and San Francisco at conferences sponsored by Pensions and Investments magazine on “de-risking”.

Emily Spreiser offered an overview of pension law at a workshop at the
National Law and Aging Conference and at training sessions for Legal Counsel for the Elderly and Florida Legal Services. Emily also presented a webinar on helping older adults with their retirement plan problems for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

PRC director Karen Ferguson and Senior Policy Advisor Norman Stein filed a
friend of the court brief in Overall v Ascension Health, et al, a case now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The case is one of 10 lawsuits that will decide whether a pension plan established by a religiously-affiliated nonprofit organization, which is not itself a church, is a "church plan" that is exempt from ERISA. The results of these lawsuits will determine whether hundreds of thousands of nurses, teachers, social workers, and orderlies will be able to count on getting the pensions they have earned.

The Center was one of more than 40 organizations that signed onto
a letter to Congress, expressing support for updated and stronger rules to protect people with retirement plans and individual retirement accounts from conflict-ridden investment advice.

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  Pension Rights Center
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